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.

Plant biologists have discovered the last major element of 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. Although many steps of the pathway were already known, new research from a team including Carnegie’s Ying Sun and Zhiyong Wang fills in a missing gap about the mechanism through which brassinosteroids cause plant genes to be expressed. Their research has implications for agricultural science and, potentially, evolutionary research.

Plants are very sensitive to light conditions, in part due to a signal that activates some special photoreceptors that regulate growth, metabolism, and physiological development. Scientists believe that these light signals control plant growth and development by activating or inhibiting plant hormones. New research from Carnegie plant biologists has altered the prevailing theory on how light signals and hormones interact. Their findings could have implications for food crop production.

Scientists have known how important plant steroids called brassinosteroids are for regulating plant growth and development. But until now, they did not know how extensive their reach is. Now Carnegie researchers have identified about a thousand brassinosteroid target genes showing links between the steroid and numerous cellular functions and other hormonal chain reactions. The study is the first comprehensive action map for a plant hormone and will help accelerate basic plant science and crop research.

Sugars serve as the major bioenergy currency exchanged between cells in both plants and humans. We did not know how cells export sugars from those cells that acquire or produce the sugars to supply the rest of the organism with bioenergy. This work identified a novel class of sugar transporters from plants an animals. The plant proteins are essential for pathogenicity of blight bacteria in rice. 

Flowering plants release copious amounts of sperm-carrying pollen to be delivered by wind, insect, or other carriers to waiting females. In some situations, the females are choosy about which pollen grains they allow to fertilize their eggs.  How do these females discriminate between pollen types?

Director Emeritus of Carnegie’s Department of Plant Biology, Winslow Briggs,has been elected an Einstein Professor by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The professorship program annually awards 20 distinguished international scientists the honor. The recipients participate in lecture tours throughout China to strengthen international science and technology cooperation and train the next generation of Chinese scientists.

Researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science, with colleagues at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology, observed for the first time a fundamental process of cellular organization in living plant cells: the birth of microtubules by studying recruitment and activity of individual protein complexes that create the cellular protein network known as the microtubule cytoskeleton—the scaffolding that provides structure and ultimately form and shape to the cell. These fundamental results could be important to agricultural research and are published in the October 10, 2010, early on-line edition of Nature Cell Biology.