Plant roots are fascinating plant organs – they not only anchor the plant, but are also the world’s most efficient mining companies. Roots live in darkness and direct the activities of the other organs, as well as interact with the surrounding environment. Charles Darwin posited in The Power of Movement of Plants that the root system acts as a plant’s brain. Due to the difficulty of accessing root tissue in intact live plants, research of these hidden parts has always lagged behind research on the more visible parts of plants. But now: a new technology--developed jointly by Carnegie and Stanford University--could revolutionize root research.

Food prices are soaring at the same time as the Earth’s population is nearing 9 billion. As a result the need for increased crop yields is extremely important. New research led by Carnegie’s Wolf Frommer into the system by which sugars are moved throughout a plant—from the leaves to the harvested portions and elsewhere—could be crucial for addressing this problem. Their work is published December 8 by Science Express.

The four largest nonprofit plant science research institutions in the U.S. have joined forces to form the Association of Independent Plant Research Institutes (AIPI) in an effort to target plant science research to meet the profound challenges facing society in a more coordinated and rapid fashion.

 José Dinneny and 5 members of his lab have moved from the Temasek Lifesciences Laboratory in Singapore to their new home in building 100 of the DPB.  José's  current work is aimed at understanding how plants acclimate to changes in salinity and water levels, two of the most important parameters of soil influencing agricultural productivity.

Plant biologists have been working for years to nail down the series of chemical signals that one class of plant hormones, called brassinosteroids, send from a protein on the surface of a plant cell to the cell’s nucleus. New research from Carnegie scientists Tae-Wuk Kim and Zhiyong Wang, with contributions from the University of California San Francisco, isolated another link in this chain. Fully understanding the brassinosteroid pathway could help scientists better understand plant growth and help improve food and energy crop production.

"Because of their small size, many of the top-ranked institutions are also nimble. Rather than isolating researchers in individual laboratories, they literally knock down the walls to encourage collaboration."

Although scientists have been able to sequence the genomes of many organisms, they still lack a context for associating the proteins encoded in genes with specific biological processes. To better understand the genetics underlying plant physiology and ecology—especially in regard to photosynthesis—a team of researchers including Carnegie's Arthur Grossman identified a list of proteins encoded in the genomes of plants and green algae, but not in the genomes of organisms that don't generate energy through photosynthesis. Their work will be published June 17 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Martin Jonikas, a plant biologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, won one of four grants for research to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis, awarded jointly on 28 March by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the UK Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC).

Virginia Gewin from Nature interviewed Martin on the occasion of the receipt of his new grant. Read the full interview here.

Leaves are flattened structures perfected for turning sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen.  Turning HD-ZIPIII proteins "ON" in some cells and "OFF" in neighboring cells gives the leaf blade its characteristic shape.  The Barton lab is investigating how HD-ZIPIII proteins are kept in the OFF state.   They have recently discovered a series of steps that prevents HD-ZIPIII proteins from coming together to form active dimers.  This work is a step toward understanding how diverse leaf shapes have evolved to adapt to a vast array of environmental conditions.