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Issue 480, 22 April 2002

Shoots but no droop in long-lasting plants

Limp lettuce and wilting roses could be a thing of the past, following the identification of a key plant gene by University scientists. The discovery could also improve food shelf life, and help speed up reforestation programmes. Plant scientists Professor Meyer and Dr Elena Zubko (pictured left) have identified the plant gene which produces a specific type of hormones (cytokinins) to counteract ageing, and control shoot production. By enhancing the gene to overproduce cytokinins, they saw dramatic results: a cut plant survived over six months in water alone – pictured below alongside an unenhanced example. Other plants grew abundant shoots which could be cut off to produce new plants.

The implications of the discovery are wide-ranging, as Professor Meyer explains: "The image of almost everlasting flowers is the most dramatic, but not the most important, manifestation of our research. The gene we've identified could help to maintain vegetables in prime condition during transportation, especially important for large, developing nations where enough food is grown but bad infrastructure prevents it reaching the consumer in time.

"The ability to grow abundant shoots very quickly could speed up reforestation programmes, by combating the slow growth of trees in the early stages."

To put their discovery to practical use, the scientists are now considering how to control the gene, the timing and the level of hormone it produces. They are looking at parallels in nature, comparing the new plant gene with a bacterial gene that has similar hormone producing effects, and have applied to the BBSRC for further funding.

The discovery, published in the the Plant Journal and press released by the University, provoked extensive media interest.

Dr Meyer was interviewed on BBC Look North and the World Service, and the research was featured in both local and many national papers, and is to be covered by many specialist publications in farming and horticulture.

See the University press release


 
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