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Ohio Wesleyan Research Published in International Journal
Peer-Reviewed Article Expands Knowledge of How Plant Roots Respond to Gravity

March 23, 2011

The cover of April’s Physiologia Plantarum, an international journal for plant biology, features microscopic images supporting research conducted at Ohio Wesleyan University. The accompanying article was co-authored by faculty member Chris Wolverton and OWU graduates Alex M. Paya ’09 and Jonida Toska ’08.
Image courtesy of the Scandinavian Plant Physiology Society
DELAWARE, OH – Special gravity sensors in plant roots work together with a plant hormone to help plants react to changing conditions that impact their ability to grow and thrive, according to newly published Ohio Wesleyan University research.

The study, “Root cap angle and gravitropic response rate are uncoupled in the Arabidopsis pgm-1 mutant,” appears in the April edition of Physiologia Plantarum, an international journal for plant biology. Microscopic images from the Ohio Wesleyan research also are featured on the journal’s cover.

The study was conducted by Ohio Wesleyan faculty member Chris Wolverton, Ph.D., associate professor of botany/microbiology, with assistance from OWU student-researchers and article co-authors Alex M. Paya and Jonida Toska. Paya, a botany/microbiology major who graduated in 2009, currently is pursuing a doctoral degree in horticulture at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Toska, a botany/microbiology major who graduated in 2008, is conducting cell biology research at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Wolverton said the research, which began in 2006, expands knowledge about plant roots and gravity gleaned from previous external experiments.

“As nonmotile organisms, plants can only obtain the inputs required for growth by adapting their growth to their environment,” he said. “One of the most influential environmental cues plants perceive is gravity. It has a dramatic, ongoing influence on plant form, from the branching patterns of trees to the unseen underground growth of root systems.

“Researchers have known for decades that small starch-filled structures in the root tip act as gravity sensors by falling to the lowest part of specialized gravity-sensing cells,” Wolverton continued. “In addition, it has also been well-established that the plant hormone auxin acts as a regulator of differential growth in gravity responses. In this study, we demonstrated for the first time that these two processes are linked in the root cap by showing the lack of an auxin gradient when the root is lacking starch.”

Currently, Wolverton is working to expand the research to learn more about the role of the plant hormone, auxin.

“We’re in the process of creating plants with mutations in genes important in growth regulation that will allow us to test the patterns of auxin flow during gravity response,” he said. “We’re also working on a separate project focused on the interaction of nutrient sensing and lateral root gravitropism.”

Wolverton said it is especially gratifying to publish with his former students. Paya began working on the project in a freshman honors tutorial, continued his efforts during Ohio Wesleyan’s 10-week Summer Science Research Program, and then spent several semesters of independent study working in Wolverton’s laboratory. Toska spent nearly two years of independent study working on the project and presented the first poster of the work at the Midwestern Section meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists.

The Physiologia Plantarum journal is published by the Scandinavian Plant Physiology Society, which has nearly 500 members from all over the world. According to its mission, the journal is “committed to publishing the best full-length original research papers that advance our understanding of the primary physiological, molecular and genetic mechanisms governing plant development, growth and productivity.”

Read the complete Ohio Wesleyan study.

Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier small, private universities, with more than 90 undergraduate majors, sequences, and courses of study, and 23 Division III varsity sports. Located in Delaware, Ohio, just minutes north of Ohio’s capital and largest city, Columbus, the university combines a globally focused curriculum with off-campus learning and leadership opportunities that translate classroom theory into real-world practice. OWU’s close-knit community of 1,850 students represents 45 states and 52 countries. Ohio Wesleyan earned a 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in General Community Service, is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives,” and is included on the “best colleges” lists of U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review. Learn more at www.owu.edu.