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New tool puts plant hormone under surveillance

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16 January 2012

Charles Darwin was the first to speculate that plants contain hormones. His pioneering research led to the identification of the very first and key plant growth hormone - auxin - in 1937.

Seventy five years on an international team of researchers have made another break-through in our understanding of this important plant hormone. The team from the University of Lyon, The University of Nottingham, Ghent University and the University of Leeds, have developed a sensor that allows auxin to be visualised in plant tissues for the very first time.

This development will allow scientists to understand in more detail how hormones effect plant growth and might eventually lead to breeding plants with more efficient roots. More efficient roots could help increase crop yields and so help to ensure global food security.

Their research, funded by BBSRC and published today, Sunday 15 January 2012, in the prestigious academic journal Nature describes how the scientists engineered the sensor in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana.

Plants, like animals, have hormones that regulate how they grow and develop. Plant hormones give plants their shape, cause tomatoes to ripen, leaves to drop and roots to grow downwards. Auxin is essential for plant body development. It has a key role in the coordination of many growth and behavioural processes in the plant's life cycle.

Called DII-VENUS, the new sensor can monitor rapid changes in auxin and allows researchers to visualise almost in real-time the redistribution of auxin during developmental responses. This has revealed much more complex patterns of auxin in tissues than previously thought, indicating that sensitivity to the hormone within tissues precisely control their capacity to respond.

Malcolm Bennett, Professor of Plant Sciences in the School of Biosciences and Biology Director at the Centre for Plant Integrative Biology (CPIB), said: "This sensor represents a very important advance because almost every plant developmental process is controlled by auxin, starting from embryo patterning, to regulation of leaf and root growth and even the shape of flowers. Using the sensor to determine exactly where and when auxin accumulates in plant tissues will help us to design plants with new shapes, sizes and properties."

With funding from BBSRC and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) the auxin sensor was developed and characterised by scientists led by CNRS Researcher Dr Teva Vernoux from the Laboratoire de Reproduction et Developpement des Plantes (RDP) at the Universite de Lyon in collaboration with the CPIB at The University of Nottingham, the Department of Plant systems Biology,VIB, at Ghent University and Centre for Plant Science at the University of Leeds.

Dr Vernoux said: "We can now visualize auxin in living tissues. This is a fantastic progress for the understanding of the role of hormones in plant development."

On publication a copy of the full paper can be found at:


About the Laboratoire de Reproduction et Développement des Plantes

The Laboratoire de Reproduction et Développement des Plantes at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon is affiliated with both CNRS and INRA, two of the leading European research institutes. The RDP conducts fundamental scientific research in plant development (sexual reproduction, function of the shoot apical meristem and flower development), which has applications in the improvement of several plant traits such as seed and flower quality. It has an internationally recognized expertise in live imaging and multiscale systems biology.

About The University of Nottingham

The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as 'the embodiment of the modern international university', has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named 'Europe's greenest university' in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, a league table of the world's most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions, which ranked Nottingham second in the world overall.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia. Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fund-raising campaign, will deliver the University's vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. For more details, visit: .

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent'. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power. The University's vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.

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Tags: press release