Researchers at the universities of Leicester and Oxford have identified the gene that controls plant growth as temperatures increase — a discovery with potential benefits for agriculture in the face of ongoing climate change.
“Exposure of plants to high temperature results in the rapid elongation of stems and a dramatic upwards elevation of leaves,” said Kerry Franklin, a biologist at the University of Leicester. “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.”
The researchers also found that mutant plants without the regulatory protein produced by the gene, unlike normal plants, don’t develop highly elongated stems and elevated leaves when exposed to warmer temperatures.
“This study provides the first major advance in understanding how plants regulate growth responses to elevated temperature at the molecular level,” Franklin said. “This discovery will prove fundamental in understanding the effects of global climate change on crop productivity.”
He added, “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.”