Ramosa2 determines cell fate in branch meristems of maize
Scientists are interested in understanding genetic control of grass inflorescence architecture because seeds of cereal grasses (e.g. rice, wheat, maize) provide most of the worlds food. Grass seeds are borne on axillary branches, whose branching patterns dictate most of the variation in form seen in the grasses. Maize produces two types of inflorescence; the tassel (male pollen-bearing flowers) and the ear (female flowers and site of seed or kernel development). The tassel forms from the shoot apical meristem after the production of a defined number of leaves, whereas ears form at the tips of compact axillary branches. Normal maize ears are unbranched, and tassels have long branches only at their base.
Many different genes control the architecture as well as the nutrient content in cereal grasses. The ramosa2 (ra2) mutant of maize has increased branching of inflorescences relative to wild type plants, with short branches replaced by long, indeterminate ones, suggesting that the ra2 gene plays an important role in controlling inflorescence architecture. A recent publication in The Plant Cell (Bortiri et al.) reports that ra2 encodes a putative transcription factor, or protein that controls the expression of other genes. Scientists involved in the study were Esteban Bortiri, George Chuck, and Sarah Hake of the USDA Plant Gene Expression Center and University of California at Berkeley and colleagues Erik Vollbrecht of Iowa State University, Torbert Rocheford of the University of Illinois, and Rob Martienssen of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.
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