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Researchers offer clues to how leaf patterns are formed

Pick up a leaf and it is hard not to notice the pattern made by the veins. For years, biologists, mathematicians and even poets and philosophers have tried to decipher the rules and regulations behind those varied designs and now new research published in part at the University of Alberta offers a big clue to how those patterns are formed.

"For years people have been trying to understand this beautiful formation," said Dr. Enrico Scarpella, from the U of A's Department of Biological Sciences. "We were able to connect the mechanism responsible for the initiation of the veins in the leaf with that of formation of the shoot and root. With our piece of the puzzle added, it indeed seems the same mechanism is responsible for all these events."

What Scarpella and his research team--Dr. Thomas Berleth's group from the University of Toronto and Dr. Jiri Friml from the University of Tuebingen--discovered has interested scientists around the world. For several years it has been known that a hormone called auxin stimulated the formation of the veins. "It was believed that auxin would behave like man--build the streets on which man himself would travel," said Scarpella. "However, the theory argued that in each individual vein auxin could only run one way at any given time, making them sort of alternate one-way streets."

By labeling the protein that transports the hormone auxin with a fluorescent tag, he could then shine a light on the leaves and watch how auxin was being transported during vein formation. Thanks to this approach, the team identified cells within individual veins that transport the hormone auxin in two opposite directions. He also showed for the first time that the epidermis of the leaf is very important in the transport of this hormone and in the formation of the veins.

One of the objections to the idea that veins might act as a channel to transport auxin was that there were mutant leaves that produced dotted, rather than cont
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Contact: Phoebe Dey
phoebe.dey@ualberta.ca
780-492-0437
University of Alberta
15-Jun-2006


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