MONDAY, Oct. 4, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A gene that lets a plant's roots tell the leaves to stop growing when conditions are bad -- such as when water is scarce or soil is too compacted -- has been identified by University of Utah scientists.
This finding may help scientists develop ways to genetically engineer crops and other plants to be more productive in dry conditions.
The study appears in the Oct. 5 issue of Current Biology.
"When you look at plants, it's easy to think only about the above-ground parts you can see," study leader Leslie Sieburth, an associate professor of biology, said in a prepared statement.
"But this study shows that the roots potentially play a huge role -- in addition to supplying water and nutrients -- in controlling how the plant comes to look as it does. It's very easy to ignore the root, but our study shows we shouldn't," Sieburth said.
In research with a plant called thale cress, Sieburth and her colleagues identified a gene called BPS1 as a key player in the development of leaves. They found that manipulating BPS1 could change leaf development, even when plants had sufficient food and water.
The British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries offers drought strategies.