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Keiko Torii on the power of cross-disciplinary collaboration

Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - 15:15

An announcement of research findings by Dr. Keiko Torii, a Professor of UW Biology and Howard Hughes Medical Investigator, shows the power of cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Auxin is a small molecule with a very simple structure. But it controls the growth of plant roots, stems and flowers, and makes plants grow toward light. It can be found everywhere and acts differently depending on where it is in the plant. Like a tiny wizard, its mechanisms and functions wherever it appeared were enveloped in mystery.

A cross-disciplinary and collaborative research group led by Dr. Torii synthesized a convex auxin molecule and a receptor with a concavity or hole that fit the bump exactly. If they incorporated the hole receptor at the target location of a plant, it would not respond to natural auxin, and only react to the synthesized auxin with the bump. With this bump-and-hole strategy (convex and concave design) the pathway to more precise understanding of the various functions of auxin opened up for the first time. By applying this method, they could pinpoint exactly how auxin was behaving when sprouts germinated in the dark rapidly grew toward light. This behavior was what Darwin discovered more than 130 years ago and became the key to the later discovery of auxin. 

Auxin is like a superstar in plant science. Torii recalls how the bump-and-hole strategy created quite a stir when they announced it at an international conference last summer.Synthetic auxin is widely used in applications to ripen fruit and as herbicide, but it is difficult to use because it behaves very differently depending on location. For example, to ripen fruit, auxin must be applied to each individual flower. But with the bump-and-hole strategy, it is theoretically possible to affect only selected fruit even if the auxin is sprayed aerially.

Read the whole article at Nagoya University.

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