April 1, 2009

Plant growth gene may shape global warming

British scientists say they have made a discovery about plant growth that might have an enormous impact on crop production as global warming increases.

Researchers at the universities of Leicester and Oxford say they've identified a gene that's responsible for controlling plant growth in elevated temperatures.

Dr. Kerry Franklin of the University of Leicester Department of Biology led the study that identified a single gene responsible for controlling plant growth responses to elevated temperature.

Exposure of plants to high temperature results in the rapid elongation of stems and a dramatic upwards elevation of leaves, Franklin said. These responses are accompanied by a significant reduction in plant biomass, thereby severely reducing harvest yield. Our study has revealed that a single gene product regulates all these architectural adaptations in the model plant species, Arabidopsis thaliana.

Franklin said the findings mark the first major advance in understanding how plants regulate growth responses to elevated temperature at the molecular level.

This discovery will prove fundamental in understanding the effects of global climate change on crop productivity, he said. Identification of the mechanisms by which plants sense changes in ambient temperature remains a Holy Grail in plant biology research. Although the identity of such 'temperature sensors' remains elusive, the discovery of a key downstream regulator brings us closer to addressing this important question.

The research is reported in the journal Current Biology.