Faculty scientists have discovered a way to make trees grow bigger and faster. The research, published in Current Biology and funded by the BBSRC, has identified two genes which are involved in the growth process of poplar trees.
Professor Simon Turner, who led the research, says:
“The rate at which trees grow is determined by the rate of cell division in the stem. We have identified two genes that are able to drive cell division in the stem and so override the normal growth pattern”
The genes, called PXY and CLE, control tree trunk growth. When they were overexpressed, the trees grew twice as fast as normal – being wider, taller and producing more leaves. As well as increasing the biomass available for the growing biofuel and biotechnology industries, trees may be better prepared to handle the pressures of climate change. Professor Turner explains:
“Most plants, including crops, respond to adverse environmental conditions with lower growth rates that result in correspondingly lower yields. Understanding how the plants respond to environmental signals and to what extent we are able to manipulate them to override these signals is likely to be very important for continued improvements to crop performance. In future, it may be possible that manipulating the expression of the PXY and CLE genes can override environmental signals that normally alter plant growth.”
The team now plan to work with a forest products company to test their findings in the field. It is hoped that this research will be used to address the pressing challenge of keeping crop yields high in an increasingly harsh climate.