Rresearch Roundup: Biologists find key to plant growth

If you think plants sometimes grow taller overnight, you're right. Plant growth isn't uniform throughout the day but involves growth spurts governed by light levels, seasonal temperatures, and/or natural growth hormones. So-called "rhythmic growth" occurs at night with the fastest growth taking place in pre-dawn hours. This ability also conveys a competitive advantage in plants that wind up growing in the shade of other foliage.

A team of biologists from UCSD, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and Oregon State University has identified the genes that govern rhythmic growth in plants. Understanding how genetic mechanisms switch growth "on" and "off" could one day allow the design of crops that grow substantially faster and produce more food than the most productive varieties now available. The findings appear in the online journal PLoS Biology.

Now hear this

Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute have discovered a gene essential for both hearing and balance in mice and humans. An additional finding is a mutation of this gene causes deafness that differs from hereditary hearing loss.

The study began with the observation that certain mice carried a mutation that caused deafness and balance problems. After identifying the mouse gene, the team studied the equivalent gene in humans and discovered some deaf people carry the same mutations. The hope is additional research could lead to prevention of this form of deafness with a novel drug therapy. The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Uniting sciences

The Center for Theoretical Biological Physics (CTBP), on the UC San Diego campus, is a world leader in the emerging field of theoretical biological physics - research that unites physicists, chemists, mathematicians, and biologists to unravel the workings of complex biological processes.

A partnership between UCSD and The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the CTBP has just received a five-year, $11 million grant from the National Science Foundation: funding that will enlarge the scope of the center's research projects and researcher training. More information at

http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu

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