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New Breakthrough in Global Warming Plant Production

Arabidopsis thaliana plants grown at 22oC (left) and 28oC (right).

New Breakthrough in Global Warming Plant Production

Researchers one step closer to ‘Holy Grail’ of plant biology research

Issued on 30 March 2009


Researchers at the universities of Leicester and Oxford have made a discovery about plant growth which could potentially have an enormous impact on crop production as global warming increases.

Dr Kerry Franklin, from the University of Leicester Department of Biology led the study which has identified a single gene responsible for controlling plant growth responses to elevated temperature.

Dr Franklin said: “Exposure of plants to high temperature results in the rapid elongation of stems and a dramatic upwards elevation of leaves”.

“These responses are accompanied by a significant reduction in plant biomass, thereby severely reducing harvest yield. Our study has revealed that a single gene product regulates all these architectural adaptations in the model plant species, Arabidopsis thaliana.”

The work has been published in Current Biology and was funded by the Royal Society and the BBSRC.

Dr Franklin added: “This study provides the first major advance in understanding how plants regulate growth responses to elevated temperature at the molecular level. This discovery will prove fundamental in understanding the effects of global climate change on crop productivity”.

“Identification of the mechanisms by which plants sense changes in ambient temperature remains a Holy Grail in plant biology research. Although the identity of such ‘temperature sensors’ remains elusive, the discovery of a key downstream regulator brings us closer to addressing this important question.”

The study has shown that mutant plants, deficient in the regulatory protein PHYTOCHROME INTERACTING FACTOR 4 (PIF4) do not display the dramatic stem elongation and leaf elevation responses observed in wild type plants upon exposure to elevated temperature. The study has further shown PIF4 to regulate a pathway involving the plant hormone auxin. The PIF4 gene product was previously identified as a co-regulator of light-mediated elongation growth, suggesting plants integrate light and temperature signalling pathways through converged regulation of the same target proteins.

Note to newsdesk:

Figure: Arabidopsis thaliana plants grown at 22oC (left) and 28oC (right)- image available from

For more information, please contact Dr. Kerry Franklin:, 0116 252 5302.

About the BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes. The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research are Institutes of BBSRC. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

For more information see:

University of Leicester - Times Higher Education University of the Year 2008/09


  • A member of the 1994 Group of universities that share a commitment to research excellence, high quality teaching and an outstanding student experience.

• Named University of the Year by Times Higher (2008) Shortlisted (2006, 2005) and by the Sunday Times (2007)

• Ranked second to Cambridge for student satisfaction amongst full time students taught at mainstream universities in England

• Ranked as a Top 20 university by the Sunday Times, Guardian,Times and UK Complete University Guide, published in The Independent

• Ranked in world’s top 200 universities by Shanghai Jiao Tong International Index, 2005-08 and the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings

• Ranked top 10 in England for research impact by The Guardian

• Students’ Union of the Year award 2005, short listed 2006 and 2007

Founded in 1921, the University of Leicester has more than 20,000 students from 136 countries. Teaching in 18 subject areas has been graded Excellent by the Quality Assurance Agency- including 14 successive scores - a consistent run of success matched by just one other UK University. Leicester is world renowned for the invention of DNA Fingerprinting by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys and houses Europe's biggest academic Space Research Centre. The latest Research Assessment Exercise adjudged Leicester to have world leading research in every subject panel and identified Museum Studies (at 65%) as having the highest proportion of world leading researchers compared with any other subject area at any university in the UK. Leicester also emerged as having one of the highest proportions of staff who are research active in the UK, with approximately 93% of staff submitted for the exercise. The University's research grant income places it among the top 20 UK research universities. The University employs over 3,000 people, has an annual turnover of over £200m, covers an estate of 94 hectares


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