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Young plant's natural defenses amount to more than just its seed

For an infant plant, the world outside of its seed is not always a friendly place. Drought, wind, ice and other harsh conditions would threaten its well-being were it not for the shelter of its seed. Consequently, the decision to shed this weatherproof coat in order to begin to grow is perhaps the most critical a plant will ever make: once it stretches its fragile stem up toward the sky, there's no turning back to the safe haven of the seed.

Yet, growing up may not be quite as risky for a young plant as once was believed. According to Rockefeller University research, newborn plants have a second chance to hold off on growth after breaking through their seed coats. This developmental arrest, or checkpoint, offers protection against the possibility that a plant accidentally sprouts or "germinates" when conditions are poor, for example in times of drought.

"A cool summer rain might fool a winter plant into germinating too early, when there's not enough water in the soil," says Nam-Hai Chua, Ph.D., head of the Laboratory of Plant Molecular Biology at Rockefeller. "This growth arrest would give that plant the chance to salvage its mistake by essentially freezing growth for up to 30 days."

The findings may have applications in the food biotechnology industry, because they suggest new genetic strategies for creating drought-resistant crops.

New research from the Chua lab, reported in the Feb. 1 issue of Genes & Development, identifies a novel protein in the experimental plant Arabidopsis that helps terminate this developmental arrest, thereby indirectly reinitiating growth. Like a police officer restoring the flow of traffic by removing a barricade, this protein, called AFP, reestablishes growth by eliminating the primary protein, called ABI5, in charge of executing the arrest.

"Previously, we had determined that ABI5 is essential for this early growth arrest to occur," says Luis Lopez-Molina, Ph.D., first co-author of the paper an
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Contact: Whitney Clavin
clavinw@rockefeller.edu
212-327-7250
Rockefeller University
31-Jan-2003


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