Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Tricking Plants to See the Light May Control the Most Important Twitch on Earth

06.08.2014

Copious corn growing in tiny backyard plots? Roses blooming in December?

Thanks to technology that the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Richard Vierstra has been developing for years, these things may soon be possible. And now, new findings out of the genetics professor’s lab promise to advance that technology even further.

For the first time, Vierstra and his team have revealed the structure of the plant phytochrome, a critical molecule that detects the light that tells plants when to germinate, grow, make food, flower and even age. Like eyes, the phytochrome is a light sensor that converts sunlight into chemical signals to get these jobs done. By manipulating it, the group can alter the conditions under which all plants grow and develop.

Vierstra’s group published the structure in a recent issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His team also presented its results this month at the annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists in Portland, Oregon.

“It’s the molecule that tells plants when to flower,” says Vierstra. “Plants use the molecule to sense where they are in the canopy; they use the phytochromes for color vision — to sense whether they are above, next to or under other plants.”

Vierstra previously determined the structure of a similar phytochrome from light-sensing bacteria, which guided his work in plants. He already has several patents on the technologies derived from these structures and has been in talks to commercialize them. The determination of a plant phytochrome three-dimensional structure will only accelerate improvements to the technology.

One of the biggest moves in agriculture, Vierstra says, is to be able to grow plants at higher density, allowing producers to plant more crops in a given area, thus saving space and other resources.

Currently, there is a limit to how closely plants can grow relative to their nearest neighbors. At high density, the leaves of one plant shade the other, signaling to the shaded plant it isn’t receiving enough sunlight. These plants grow stems and stalks rather than fruits and seeds, becoming long and leggy as they reach for the sky.

That process begins with the phytochrome, which senses the wavelength of light shining on plants. Plants in full sun absorb red light while shaded plants receive only the leftover, far-red light. The type of light the phytochrome “sees” tells the plant whether to stretch out and become taller or to flower and make fruit. Based on the light available, the phytochrome cycles between an inactive and active state.

“Photoconversion between the active and inactive states of phytochromes is arguably the most important twitch on this planet, as it tells plants to become photosynthetic and consequently make the food we eat and the oxygen we breathe,” says Vierstra.

Vierstra and his team found that by making specific changes to the light sensor, they can dupe it into staying in its active state longer.

“By mutating the phytochromes, we created plants that think they’re in full sun, even when they’re not,” Vierstra says.

Three decades ago, while a postdoctoral researcher at UW-Madison, Vierstra was the first to purify the phytochrome protein. Now, his work has come full circle. He hopes the research team’s findings become the scaffold for a toolkit others can use — one that might fundamentally alter agriculture.

In addition to growers, the research also has implications for other scientists, as the technology could be used to create new fluorescent molecules for detecting minuscule events inside cells, and in the field of optogenetics, which uses light as a tool to drive biological change.

The work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the University of Wisconsin College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation holds Vierstra’s patents on the technology.

Richard Vierstra, vierstra@wisc.edu

(also available at 608-262-8215 after Aug. 10)

Richard Vierstra | newswise

Further reports about: Earth Plants agriculture flower grow optogenetics phytochrome structure sunlight

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Severity of enzyme deficiency central to favism
26.07.2016 | Universität Zürich

nachricht From vision to hand action
26.07.2016 | Deutsches Primatenzentrum GmbH - Leibniz-Institut für Primatenforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Self-assembling nano inks form conductive and transparent grids during imprint

Transparent electronics devices are present in today’s thin film displays, solar cells, and touchscreens. The future will bring flexible versions of such devices. Their production requires printable materials that are transparent and remain highly conductive even when deformed. Researchers at INM – Leibniz Institute for New Materials have combined a new self-assembling nano ink with an imprint process to create flexible conductive grids with a resolution below one micrometer.

To print the grids, an ink of gold nanowires is applied to a substrate. A structured stamp is pressed on the substrate and forces the ink into a pattern. “The...

Im Focus: The Glowing Brain

A new Fraunhofer MEVIS method conveys medical interrelationships quickly and intuitively with innovative visualization technology

On the monitor, a brain spins slowly and can be examined from every angle. Suddenly, some sections start glowing, first on the side and then the entire back of...

Im Focus: Newly discovered material property may lead to high temp superconductivity

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Ames Laboratory have discovered an unusual property of purple bronze that may point to new ways to achieve high temperature superconductivity.

While studying purple bronze, a molybdenum oxide, researchers discovered an unconventional charge density wave on its surface.

Im Focus: Mapping electromagnetic waveforms

Munich Physicists have developed a novel electron microscope that can visualize electromagnetic fields oscillating at frequencies of billions of cycles per second.

Temporally varying electromagnetic fields are the driving force behind the whole of electronics. Their polarities can change at mind-bogglingly fast rates, and...

Im Focus: Continental tug-of-war - until the rope snaps

Breakup of continents with two speed: Continents initially stretch very slowly along the future splitting zone, but then move apart very quickly before the onset of rupture. The final speed can be up to 20 times faster than in the first, slow extension phase.phases

Present-day continents were shaped hundreds of millions of years ago as the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart. Derived from Pangaea’s main fragments Gondwana...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

GROWING IN CITIES - Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Urban Gardening

15.07.2016 | Event News

SIGGRAPH2016 Computer Graphics Interactive Techniques, 24-28 July, Anaheim, California

15.07.2016 | Event News

Partner countries of FAIR accelerator meet in Darmstadt and approve developments

11.07.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

New movie screen allows for glasses-free 3-D

26.07.2016 | Information Technology

Scientists develop painless and inexpensive microneedle system to monitor drugs

26.07.2016 | Health and Medicine

Astronomers discover dizzying spin of the Milky Way galaxy's 'halo'

26.07.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>