Thoughts from the President

September 22, 2023 - Spotlight on Three New Papers 

Dear Danforth Center Community,

It occurred to me that I’ve not highlighted any Danforth Center scientific publications recently. Let’s remedy that right here with three excellent papers, and with a few comments to help the non-specialists. Congratulations to all of the contributors!

Yu, Y., Hu, H., Voytas, D.F., Doust, A.N., and Kellogg, E.A. (2023). The YABBY gene
SHATTERING1 controls activation rather than patterning of the abscission zone in
Setaria viridis. New Phytologist 240, 846-862. DOI: 10.1111/nph.19157.

Plants have highly evolved mechanisms to shed or drop organs (abscission) in response to environmental or developmental cues. It’s why you have to rake leaves in the Fall! But in agriculture, the natural shedding of flowers or seeds is detrimental, and cereal crops with abscission-inhibiting mutations in certain genes, like SHATTERING1, have been bred to dramatically increase yield. Using Crispr gene editing and detailed analyses, Yu et al. show for the first time some mechanistic features of abscission in the grasses, including the role of the plant hormone auxin.

Ludwig, E., Polydore, S., Berry, J., Sumner, J., Ficor, T., Agnew, E., Haine, K., Greenham, K., Fahlgren, N., Mocker, T.C., Gehan, M.A. (2023). Natural variation in Brachypodium distachyon responses to combined abiotic stresses. Plant J. DOI:10.1111/tpj.16387.

Understanding how native plants deal with extreme temperature, drought, and other environmental stresses offers insights into how crops can be bred to better withstand the harsh realities resulting from climate change. Ludwig and collaborators studied the genetic variation in how 149 different accessions of the grass Brachypodium distachyon from diverse Mediterranean and Middle East locations deal with heat, drought and combined heat+drought stresses. They found surprising relationships between heat and drought responses, and at least one new genetic determinant that controls the amount of stress damage.

Geng, S., Hamaji, T., Ferris, P.J., and Umen, J. A conserved RWP-RK transcription factor VSR1 controls gametic differentiation in volvocine algae. (2023). Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2305099120.

This most recent work from the Umen lab gets at the critical control mechanism for sex determination in single-celled and multicellular algae. The capacity to produce distinct mating types (e.g. male and female) is the foundation for reshuffling of genetic material within a species, which maintains genetic diversity and capacity to adapt in different environments. Geng et al. discovered that the key regulatory protein VSR1 either interacts with itself (VSR1-VSR1 complex) to induce female gametes, or with MID protein (VSR1-MID) to induce male gametes. The data show elegantly why either male or female gametes form, and they give reasons why this mechanism may also occur throughout the plant kingdom.

Jim Carrington,
President and Chief Executive Officer

Previous Weekly Messages from Jim Carrington

Danforth Center Response Plan

The Danforth Plant Science Center recognizes the potential of exposure to Coronavirus (COVID-19) in our building and the impact it could have on our people and the Center. Accordingly, we have a plan in place in the event of a positive test for COVID-19 of an individual who was present in our Building(s).

Danforth Center Updates

During this unique moment in history, the first priority of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is the health and safety of our Center community, our families, and those who work with us.