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Until now it has not been clear how salt, a scourge to agriculture, halts the growth of the plant-root system. A team of researchers, led by the Carnegie Institution’s José Dinneny and Lina Duan, found that not all types of roots are equally inhibited. They discovered that an inner layer of tissue in the branching roots that anchor the plant is sensitive to salt and activates a stress hormone, which stops root growth. The study, published in the current issue of The Plant Cell, is a boon for understanding the stress response and for developing salt-resistant crops.

Plants grow upward from a tip of undifferentiated tissue called the shoot apical meristem. As the tip extends, stem cells at the center of the meristem divide and increase in numbers. But the cells on the periphery differentiate to form plant organs, such as leaves and flowers. In between these two layers, a group of boundary cells go into a quiescent state and form a barrier that not only separates stem cells from differentiating cells, but eventually forms the borders that separate the plant’s organs.

Light is not only the source of a plant’s energy, but also an environmental signal that instructs the growth behavior of plants. As a result, a plant’s sensitivity to light is of great interest to scientists and their research on this issue could help improve crop yields down the road.

The American Society for Plant Biology (ASPB) awarded Wolf B. Frommer, director of Carnegie’s Department of Plant Biology, the Lawrence Bogorad Award for Excellence in Plant Biology Research for “his major contributions in the development of fundamental tools and technologies essential for breakthrough discoveries that advance our understanding of glucose, sucrose, ammonium, amino acid, and nucleotide transport in plants.”

The Carnegie Institution announced today that it is a grant recipient of the Grand Challenges Explorations initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Wolf B. Frommer, director of Carnegie’s Department of Plant Biology, jointly with Bing Yang from Iowa State University and Frank White from Kansas State University, proposed the innovative global health and development research project entitled “Transformative Strategy for Controlling Rice Disease in Developing Countries.”

The scientific community needs to make a 10-year, $100 billion investment in food and energy security, says Carnegie’s Wolf Frommer and Tom Brutnell of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in an opinion piece published in the June issue of The Scientist. They say the importance of addressing these concerns in light of a rapidly growing global population is on par with President John Kennedy’s promise to put man on the moon—a project that took a decade and cost $24 billion.

The Plant Metabolic Network, which is based at Carnegie’s Department of Plant Biology, has launched four new online databases that offer an unprecedented view of the biochemical pathways controlling the metabolism of corn, soybeans, wine grapes, and cassava—four important species of crop plant. The new databases will serve as a critical resource for scientists working with these species to increase crop production, enhance biofuel development, or explore novel medicines.

Plant science is key to addressing the major challenges facing humanity in the 21st Century, according to Carnegie’s David Ehrhardt and Wolf Frommer. In a Perspective published in The Plant Cell, the two researchers argue that the development of new technology is key to transforming plant biology in order to meet human needs.

The major difference between plant and animal cells is the photosynthetic process, which converts light energy into chemical energy. When light isn’t available, energy is generated by breaking down carbohydrates and sugars, just as it is in animal and some bacterial cells. Two cellular organelles are responsible for these two processes: the chloroplasts for photosynthesis and the mitochondria for sugar breakdown. New research from Carnegie’s Eva Nowack and Arthur Grossman has opened a window into the early stages of chloroplast evolution.