Arabidopsis - I, Suisetz [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Scientists at the universities of Birmingham and Nottingham have uncovered a new mechanism by which plants can regulate root architecture, a discovery that could lead to better ways of growing crops.

 Working on the plant species Arabidopsis, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council funded researchers, including Dr Juliet Coates and Dr Dan Gibbs from the School of Biosciences here at the University of Birmingham, discovered that a gene called AtMYB93 plays an important role in the regulation of root branching, an important aspect of root architecture. Root branching is the lateral development of roots, a complex process involving plant hormones, environmental signals, and many genes and proteins.

Dr Coates and the team found that plants where AtMYB93 was switched off had faster growing lateral roots and more of them, whereas the opposite was the case in plants where the gene was expressed at a higher level than usual.

Dr Juliet Coates, said: "The AtMYB93 gene is exciting because of its specificity: it is only expressed in roots, and only in a few cells next to where the new root would form. This gene therefore represents a possible new target for specifically manipulating root branching in useful crop plants, to enhance their ability to grow and survive in a wider range of soils and environments, without affecting other important aspects of plant development such as shoot growth, flowering or seed yield."

Dr Juliet Coates

Apart from Arabidopsis, many other flowering plant species including plant crops such as barley, rice, millet, grape and oilseed rape all have similar genes to AtMYB93.