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January 11th, 2018 / ISAAA, US

A research team from the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center led by Andrea Eveland has identified a genetic mechanism that could increase the yields of cereal crops. The team performed the research in Setaria viridis, a grass that is closely related to economically important cereal crops and bioenergy feed stocks such as maize, sorghum, switchgrass, and sugarcane.

In their study, the scientists mapped a genetic locus in the S. viridis genome that controls growth of sterile branches called bristles, which are produced on the grain-bearing inflorescences of some grass species. They discovered that these bristles become spikelets that produce flowers and grain. The conversion is determined and regulated by a class of plant hormones called brassinosteroids (BRs), which modulate a range of physiological processes in plant growth, development and immunity.

The study also showed that localized disruption of BR synthesis can lead to the production of two flowers per spikelet rather than the single one that it typically forms. Eveland said that the discovery of the BR-dependent phenotypes represent two potential avenues for enhancing grain production in millets, including subsistence crops in many developing countries that remain largely untapped for genetic improvement. Read more