Indian study reveals how genes influence leaf architecture

The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has shed light on how’simple’ leaves, one of the two fundamental types of leaves in a plant, evolve.

Researchers from the Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology (MCB) in Bengaluru collaborated with partners from Shodhaka Life Sciences.

Their research was recently published in the journal “Nature Plants.”

It was noted that plants have either simple or compound leaves. A mango tree, for example, is said to have simple leaves since each leaf blade is intact.

A gulmohar tree, on the other hand, has compound leaves, which are divided into many leaflets.

Simple and compound leaves, on the other hand, begin as rod-like structures emerging out of the meristem, the stem’s tip where stem cells are present. The mechanism by which these rod-like structures, known as primordia, give rise to simple or compound leaves has been the topic of significant research in recent years.

The scientists discovered two gene families in Arabidopsis thaliana, a prominent model organism in plant biology, that regulate the development of simple leaves through the proteins they code for, according to a statement released by Bengaluru-based IISc on Monday.

These gene families, CIN-TCP and KNOX-II, encode transcription factors, which prevent additional leaflets from forming at the margin, resulting in simple leaves.

The researchers inhibited numerous members of the two gene families at the same time, causing simple leaves to transform into super-compound leaves that produced leaflets endlessly.

The leaves did not develop into compound leaves when the authors repressed each of the two gene families alone, implying that the genes function together.

Furthermore, according to the statement, these mutant leaves remained young and grew for as long as they possessed the appropriate growing conditions.

While Arabidopsis leaves mature in 30 days and wither in 60 days, the leaves of these mutant plants with repressed CIN-TCP and KNOX-II gene families grew over the duration of the study (175 days) and might potentially grow for months or years if given the right conditions.

While scientists have been able to manipulate the expression of particular genes to convert compound leaves to simple leaves, our study is the first to do the opposite, according to Utpal Nath, Associate Professor at MCB and senior author of the publication.

The researchers also discovered that, unlike normal Arabidopsis leaves, the leaves of the plants with the two gene families silenced had RNA signatures of young immature leaves and actively dividing cells even after they had matured. RNA is a molecular messenger that carries instructions for protein creation from genes.

The discoveries could, in the long term, launch and nurture innovations in the food business, according to the statement, in addition to providing insights into plant development.

According to Krishna Reddy Challa, a former PhD student at MCB and co-lead author of the paper, this technology could be used to change the morphology of salad leaves or enhance their biomass. You could, for example, alter the shape of a spinach leaf to resemble lettuce.

“You can control the longevity of the plant and hence lengthen its shelf-life by suppressing the CIN-TCP and KNOX-II genes,” Monalisha Rath, a PhD student at MCB and co-lead author of the work, explains.

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