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Crop Biotech Update

The Secret of Short Stems

November 20, 2013

During the green revolution in the 1960s, high-yielding crop varieties with half the normal height were produced in developing countries. Many of the rice and barley varieties owe their short stature to gibberellin deficiency. The mutated gene carries the cryptic name GA20ox1. Maarten Koornneef and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne examined whether Arabidopsis plants in the wild that grow to only half the height as other members of their same species also have a mutated GA20ox1 allele as the short rice and barley varieties of the green revolution do.

The researchers in Cologne and colleagues in other countries found samples of semi-dwarf Arabidopsis in 23 locations throughout Europe, Asia, and Japan. Their experiments showed that this characteristic can be traced back to a change in the GA20ox1 gene in most of the specimens gathered. They found that mutations only cause semi-dwarfism and have no further negative effects on the performance of the plants, even though gibberellin is an important plant growth hormone. The reason for this, according to Koornneef, "Arabidopsis possesses other additional genes for gibberellin biosynthesis. These genes jump in if GA20ox1 does not function. They apparently can compensate for all of the effects of the loss, except for the semi-dwarfism."

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