Biotech Updates

Researchers Pinpoint Genes that Control Growth of Root Hairs

February 19, 2010

Scientists from the John Innes Centre and the University of Oxford have pinpointed the gene responsible for controlling root hairs, specialized nutrient mining machine that develops on the surface of plant roots. The team, led by Liam Dolan, discovered that a master regulatory gene called RSL4 acts like a switch; hair cells grow when the gene is turned on and growth stops when it is off.

"When we discovered that RSL4 was a master regulator of hair growth we thought that perhaps the increased growth of root hairs in low phosphate soils might result from turning this gene on," says Dolan. Dolan and co-workers were right. Growing plants in phosphate-poor soils turned the gene on resulting in the growth of very long root hairs. The discovery has the potential to help breeders develop crops that can grow on poor soils.

"Our hope is that in the future someone will be able to use this gene to develop cultivars which enhance yields on poor soils," says Dolan. "This could have obvious benefits for developing world agriculture. Also as fertilizers become increasingly expensive we will need crops that are more efficient in nutrient uptake. This could have the added benefit of decreasing the amount of polluting phosphate that runs off into rivers and lakes."

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