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

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Mice provide insight into genetics of autism spectrum disorders

28.06.2017 | Health and Medicine

New photoacoustic technique detects gases at parts-per-quadrillion level

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Funding of Collaborative Research Center developing nanomaterials for cancer immunotherapy extended

28.06.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>