Journal Article

Brassinosteroid action in flowering plants: a Darwinian perspective

Ulrich Kutschera and Zhi-Yong Wang

in Journal of Experimental Botany

Published on behalf of Society for Experimental Biology

Volume 63, issue 10, pages 3511-3522
Published in print June 2012 | ISSN: 0022-0957
Published online April 2012 | e-ISSN: 1460-2431 | DOI:
Brassinosteroid action in flowering plants: a Darwinian perspective

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The year 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's first botanical book, on the fertilization of orchids (1862), wherein he described pollen grains and outlined his evolutionary principles with respect to plant research. Five decades later, the growth-promoting effect of extracts of Orchid pollen on coleoptile elongation was documented. These studies led to the discovery of a new class of phytohormones, the brassinosteroids (BRs) that were isolated from rapeseed (Brassica napus) pollen. These growth-promoting steroids, which regulate height, fertility, and seed-filling in crop plants such as rice (Oryza sativa), also induce stress- and disease resistance in green algae and angiosperms. The origin and current status of BR-research is described here, with reference to BR-action and -signal transduction, and it is shown that modern high-yield rice varieties with erect leaves are deficient in endogenous BRs. Since brassinosteroids induce pathogen resistance in rice plants and hence can suppress rice blast- and bacterial blight-diseases, genetic manipulation of BR-biosynthesis or -perception may be a means to increase crop production. Basic research on BR activity in plants, such as Arabidopsis and rice, has the potential to increase crop yields further as part of a 21th century ‘green biotech-revolution’ that can be traced back to Darwin's classical breeding experiments. It is concluded that ‘Nothing in brassinosteroid research makes sense except in the light of Darwinian evolution’ and the value of basic science is highlighted, with reference to the genetic engineering of better food crops that may become resistant to a variety of plant diseases.

Keywords: Biotechnology; brassinosteroids; Charles Darwin; hormone action; signal transduction; steroidal hormones

Journal Article.  8700 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Plant Sciences and Forestry

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