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Clues to the puzzle of 'talking' root cells

DURHAM, N.C. -- Biologists studying the development of plant roots, a general basic model for tissue development, are uncovering new pieces of the puzzle of how one root cell sends its molecular instructions to another in the development process.

Researchers have found hints that the channels by which such molecules move between plant cells may also be mirrored in animal cells. Thus, discoveries about plant development may be more broadly applicable to understanding the fundamental processes of how complex tissues develop from a few cells -- one of the central mysteries in biology.

Duke University biologist Philip Benfey and his colleagues published their latest findings in the Oct. 26, 2004, issue of the journal Current Biology. Besides Benfey, other co-authors are Kimberly Gallagher of Duke, Alice Paquette of New York University and Keiji Nakajima of the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. Their research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

In their studies, the researchers sought to understand details of how a protein made by a gene called Short-Root travels from one cell to another in the developing plant root. In previous studies, Benfey and his colleagues made the surprising finding that the Short-Root protein is one means by which one root cell "talks" to another to instruct it to develop in a certain way.

Short-Root is so named because genetic mutations that generate a non-functional protein produce plants with stunted roots. The Short-Root protein is a transcription factor, a protein that acts as a master controller of a multitude of genes.

The Arabidopsis plant on which they experimented is a widely used model in plant biology research, and its genetics and biology have been thoroughly studied. The plant's root is an excellent model for studying tissue development because -- unlike the impossibly intricate convolutions and migrations of developing animal bodies -- each new Ar
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Contact: Dennis Meredith
dennis.meredith@duke.edu
919-681-8054
Duke University
25-Oct-2004


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