Perennial grasses, including switchgrass and miscanthus, are important biofuels crops and can be harvested repeatedly, just like lawn grass, said Philip Benfey, director of the IGSP Center for Systems Biology. But before that can happen, the root system needs time to get established.
"These biofuel crops usually can't be harvested until the second or third year," Benfey said. "A method to improve root growth could have a major role in reducing the time to harvest for warm season grasses."
Benfey's team appears to have found a way to do just that. They took a directed genomic approach aimed at identifying genes that become active when cells stop dividing and start taking on the characteristics of the mature, adult cell they are to become. "We systematically looked for those genes that come 'on' precisely when cells transition from proliferation to differentiation and then turn 'off' again just as quickly," Benfey said.
That genome-wide search in the roots of the familiar laboratory plant Arabidopsis and subsequent screening of mutant lines turned up a single gene, which the researchers call UPBEAT1 (UPB1). Further study showed that UPB1 controls the gene expression of enzymes known as peroxidases.
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