SF State News {University Communications}

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Biologists discover UV-B light sensor gene in plant roots

December 17, 2008 -- Similar to humans, plants can be damaged by the intense rays found in sunlight. Young plants have sensors in their roots that detect ultraviolet light and raise the alarm when UV-B light reaches dangerous levels. How organisms measure this light has remained a puzzle until recently, but San Francisco State biologists, led by professor Zheng-Hui He, have discovered a specific gene that acts as a barometer for ultraviolet rays.

Two photographs of an early Arabidopsis early seedling. One (left) shows a normally developing plant, the other (right) shows the same plant with a mutated Rus1 gene which shows stunted growth.An Arabidopsis early seedling developing normally (left) compared with the same plant with a mutated Rus1 gene (right) which shows stunted growth.

















Known as Rus1, the gene measures the amount of UV-B light absorbed by the plant and passes that information to other cells responsible for growth and development. The gene is responsible for ensuring that young seedlings develop normally even when their roots are exposed to UV-B light. The study examined the Arabidopsis plant, a small flowering plant used as a model organism in plant biology research.   

"This gene is important because it informs the rest of the plant that it is OK to go ahead and develop even in the presence of UV-B light," Professor of Biology Zheng-Hui He said. The study was published Dec. 8 in the Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


-- Elaine Bible


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