Daily Israel Report

Jack and the Protein Beanstalk

A plant scientist at Tel Aviv University has found a way to control plant growth hormone --and hopefully lead to increased biofuel production.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 5/23/2010, 2:40 PM / Last Update: 5/23/2010, 2:44 PM

A plant scientist at Tel Aviv University has found a protein that will control plant growth hormone --and hopefully lead to increased biofuel production.

TAU's Professor Shaul Yalovsky of the Department of Molecular Biology and Ecology of Plants has discovered the mechanism that “helps the shoot and the root talk to each other.”

The system, which involves the powerful plant growth hormone “auxin,” is described by the professor an article published in the journal PloS Biology. Knowing how to manipulate auxine could be the key to making plants grow faster and better, according to Yalovsky.

“Somehow, both parts of the plant need to speak to each other to say, 'Hey down there, I'm up here and there's lots of sun,' or 'I'm down here in the roots and it's too dry.' The plant's shoots need to respond to its environment. We've discovered the mechanism that helps auxin do its job,” the professor explained.

The mechanism, a special protein called ICR1, controls the way auxin moves throughout a plant to affect its development.

Plant tissue is comprised of cellulose, polysaccharide and lignin, but in order to produce biofuel, scientists must remove the lignin. At present, the process also results in a 50 percent loss of cellulosic material that could otherwise be used as biofuel – a waste that Yalovksy's work would prevent.

By employing ICR1 to manipulate the auxin, the new system would improve efficiency by reducing the lignin and increasing the cellulose, thus creating a more cost-effective crop yield, and ultimately more biofuel.

In crops such as corn, sugarcane and non-food crops needed for ethanol production, it is hoped that growth in the field ultimately will result in growth on the financial front.