Now, however, two research articles by Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Joanne Chory and her colleagues open a new pathway to understanding how plant steroids work at the molecular level. The discoveries made by Chory's team may one day lead to less expensive ways to trigger growth enhancement of plants.
"The common theme of these two articles is that we are now beginning to unravel the molecular mechanisms by which steroid hormones regulate gene expression in plants," said Chory, who is at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
The first study reveals how plant steroid hormones, called brassinosteroids, plug into and activate receptor proteins on the surface of plant cells. Receptor activation is the first step in triggering processes, such as growth, development, the stress response and senescence -- the deterioration of plants at the end of a growing season. In a second study, the researchers identified and clarified the function of specific transcription factors, which are proteins that regulate genes involved in the cell's response to steroids.
The researchers reported their findings in articles published in the January 13, 2005, issue of the journal Nature and in the January 28, 2005, issue of the journal Cell. Chory and her Salk Institute colleagues collaborated on the studies published in Nature with Japanese researchers at Kyushu University and the RIKEN research institute. They collaborated with researchers from RIKEN on the studies published in Cell.