Because plants cannot pick up and move, they have evolved a plethora of strategies to cope with environmental stresses, whether they bring a harsh spell of drought or a browsing deer.
One of these strategies is plants' ability to continue growing new, diverse organs, including roots, branches and flowers, throughout their lifespan. But of course flowers don't develop just anywhere on the plant; they only grow from certain cells, which must receive a particular signal to begin the process. While researchers knew that flower formation was governed by the activity of the hormone auxin, they didn't understand precisely how it signaled the plant to form blooms.
Now University of Pennsylvania researchers have filled in the gaps and identified a hormone-mediated "chromatin switch" that directs a plant to form flowers. In the absence of auxin, genes that initiate flower formation are tucked away in tangled chromatin, a tightly packed bundle of DNA. But, in the hormone's presence, proteins are recruited to unravel chromatin and make the genes responsible for flower formation more accessible.
The findings could be useful in efforts to strategically boost flower formation as a means of increasing yield in agricultural crops. And the study's contribution to understanding basic mechanisms of chromatin regulation, which may be similar across species and even kingdoms of living things, could have implications for many biological processes, including human health.
"This one hormone auxin is very famous because it has many roles, in embryo, root and flower development, in vein formation, in growth -- it's doing all of these things," said Doris Wagner, senior author on the work and a professor of biology in Penn's School of Arts & Sciences. "The question is always, How can one hormone do all these different things? Now we see that, by helping open up chromatin, it can allow a variety of other proteins to come in and initiative these different pathways. All of a sudden these very diverse processes are not so hard to explain anymore."
Wagner collaborated with Penn's Miin-Feng Wu, Nobutoshi Yamaguchi, Jun Xiao and Yi Sang as well as Bastiaan Bargmann and Mark Estelle of the University of California, San Diego.
Their research is published in the journal eLife.
In work published in 2013, Wagner and colleagues began to piece together how auxin regulated flower formation. They already knew that auxin activated the transcription factor MONPTEROS, and went on to identify that factor's direct targets, which included three genes involved in flower development.
But the researchers believed the process was not that simple because those genes were packed tightly away in chromatin, which would prevent them from being activated. There must be another factor that makes those genes available to be transcribed, the team reasoned.
"So we looked on purpose for proteins that are required for making flowers and were also chromatin regulators that might overcome this repressive environment," Wagner said.
Performing experiments in Arabidopsis, the researchers showed that plants with double mutations in SWI/SNF proteins, BRM and SYD, which are known chromatin remodelers, failed to initiate flower formation. Because they can't make flowers, these plants had pointy "pin-like" forms.
The team also showed that BRM and SYD, which are part of a chromatin remodeling complex, bound to the same locations as MONOPTEROS does in the regulatory regions of various genes required for flower development. They also demonstrated that MONOPTEROS physically interacts with BRM and SYD, likely recruiting them to the proper site in the chromatin.
Once at the proper site, the team showed that BRM and SYD, in the presence of auxin, reshape chromatin in a way that makes the flower-formation genes more accessible for transcription and expression.
Wagner's group next artificially guided BRM and SYD to the correct locations in the genome in plant cells. Those cells showed increased expression of flower formation genes, just as cells exposed to auxin did.
When they repeated this experiment in a mutant plant that normally fails to form flowers, they were able to coax it to develop flowers, almost identically to a normal plant.
"We were very surprised to see the flowers come back so dramatically," Wagner said. "And, though we didn't study other aspects exhaustively, it appears that this chromatin-remodeling complex may also rescue leaf formation and perhaps some other plant development processes regulated by auxin."
The findings suggest that this process could be strategically manipulated in order to pack more flowers on one plant, potentially increasing agricultural yields.
There are signs that the auxin pathway and these SWI/SNF proteins are present even in ancient plants, so the process of recruiting chromatin remodelers could be universal in plants.
Auxin is not made in humans, but, as Wagner noted, the chromatin remodelers her team studied are and are known to be tumor suppressors -- proteins that, when mutated, can allow tumors to grow unchecked. Thus, it's conceivable that one could design a hormonal switch, using auxin, to regulate them.
Katherine Unger Baillie | EurekAlert!
Scientists uncover the role of a protein in production & survival of myelin-forming cells
19.07.2018 | Advanced Science Research Center, GC/CUNY
NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts
18.07.2018 | New York Stem Cell Foundation
A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.
The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
20.07.2018 | Information Technology
20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences