The gene required for root hair growth, and nitrates found in herbs

The gene required for root hair growth, and nitrates found in herbs

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Comparison of developing root hairs from the wild type (left) and the BUZZ mutant with small root hair protrusions, as seen through a scanning electron microscope. Credit: Karen Sanguinet, Washington State University

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Comparison of developing root hairs from the wild type (left) and the BUZZ mutant with small root hair protrusions, as seen through a scanning electron microscope. Credit: Karen Sanguinet, Washington State University

Scientists have discovered a plant gene that stimulates the growth of root hairs, the tiny structures that help plants find water and nutrients in the soil.

Dubbed “BUZZ,” this gene, identified by a team led by Washington State University researcher Karen Sanguinet, causes faster-growing and denser root networks and may also determine how plants find and use nitrate, a major source of nitrogen essential for plant growth. . Nitrates are also used in fertilizers that can pollute the environment through runoff, and this genetic discovery may eventually help plant scientists find ways to grow crops more sustainably.

“Nitrate runoff and nitrogen use efficiency are among the prominent issues facing agriculture,” said Sanguinet, an associate professor in WSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. “If I can understand the genetic mechanisms that control nitrate uptake and signaling, as well as how plants can better use nitrate, it will be beneficial for agriculture, soil, water, fertilizer application and the entire nitrogen cycle.”

The study was published in the journal new botanist, The BUZZ gene was found to adjust root growth – both the rate of lateral and lateral root initiation – in response to nitrate concentration in nearby soil.

“The BUZZ gene is expressed in response to nitrate, urea and ammonia so that the roots can find nitrogen in the soil,” Sanguinet said. “Loss of the gene shows a foraging root phenotype even when nitrate supply is abundant.”

The gene is expressed at very low levels and has not been described before, which has made finding it more difficult.

“For such a sensitive response, a plant needs a secret, tightly regulated gene,” Sanguinet said. “This is what made it difficult to find.”

Identification of the gene in a model weed plant is also important because its function is likely to be conserved due to sequence similarity between grasses. Thus it translates into crops such as wheat, rice, corn and barley. These crops are vital to feeding the world’s population, so a gene that could boost their ability to find and use nitrates could have a big impact.

Now that researchers have discovered and validated the biological role of the BUZZ gene, they are delving deeper into this newly discovered mechanism.

“Half the battle is getting to this point,” Sanguinet said. “Now we’re finding fascinating things about how plants use very specific nitrate genes and root systems. Discovering how plants work is why we’re excited to do this.”

Sanguinet studies both crops and model species. Model species are useful because they lay the foundation for work in crops that are often difficult to transform and study specific gene functions. She hopes that findings on such a gene will lead to renewed interest in basic research.

“We hope people realize there is a place for discovery,” Sanguinet said. “Unless you do basic science that lays the foundation for studying the molecular genetic mechanisms of development, you won’t be able to do applied research that has a more direct impact. It’s all part of the arc of my research. This is a great start to work that could really matter, and I’m excited to continue moving forward.” In this matter.”

The research was supervised by two PhD holders. Students from the Sanguinet Lab: Thiel Lyman and Miguel Rosas. The Sanguinet and WSU colleagues worked with scientists from South Dakota State University, Northeast Normal University in China, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

more information:
Thiel A. Lehman et al, BUZZ: A gene essential for post-initiation root hair growth and an intermediate in root architecture in Brachypodium distachyon, New Botanist (2023). DOI: 10.1111/nph.19079

Magazine information:
New Botanist

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