A lab-designed hormone could unlock mysteries harbored by plants.
By developing a synthetic version of the plant hormone auxin and an engineered receptor to recognize it, University of Washington biology professor Keiko Torii and her colleagues are poised to uncover plants’ inner workings.
The new work, described in a paper published online Jan. 22 in Nature Chemical Biology, is a “transformative tool to understand plant growth and development,” said Torii, who is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. That understanding may have big agricultural implications, raising the possibility, for instance, of a new way to ripen fruits such as strawberries and tomatoes.
To plants, the hormone auxin is king. Among many other jobs, auxin helps sunflowers track sunlight, roots grow downward and fruits ripen. This wide range of jobs, as well as the fact that every cell in a plant can both produce and detect auxin, makes it tricky to tease apart the hormone’s various roles.
“It’s been a huge mystery as to how such a simple molecule can do so many different things,” said Torii, who is senior author on the paper.
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