Salk scientists discover how plants grow to escape shade

Andy Hoang

Findings could lead to high-yield crops that gather light more efficiently and make better use of farmland.

LA JOLLA, CA —- Mild mannered though they seem, plants are extremely competitive, especially when it comes to getting their fair share of sunlight. Whether a forest or a farm, where plants grow a battle wages for the sun’s rays.

A plant’s primary weapon in this fight is the ability to grow towards the light, getting just the amount it needs and shadowing its competition. Now, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have determined precisely how leaves tell stems to grow when a plant is caught in a shady place.

In a paper published April 15 in Genes and Development, the researchers report that a protein known as phytochrome interacting factor 7 (PIF7) serves as the key messenger between a plant’s cellular light sensors and the production of auxins, hormones that stimulate stem growth.

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