Scientists at the University of Manchester have identified a hormone that can increase cell division in vascular tissue in plants. It's a development that has already proved to increase the plants biomass, and one which may lead into creating the next generation of biofuels.
Identifying the hormone 'ethylene' - which has been well known for increasing plant growth but until now has been ill understood for its role in the rate of cell division – Professor Simon Turner and Dr Peter Etchells from the Faculty of Life Sciences set about testing the hormone on Arabidopsis plants, and produced results which showed that the gene promoting cell division had, for all intents and purposes, been turned 'on', thereby increasing the biomass of vascular tissue.
“It’s well documented that ethylene can increase plant growth, but what has not been identified before is how it affects cell division. This is what we wanted to identify, particularly with the benefits this knowledge could bring to the development of biofuels.” Professor Turner, University of Manchester
The scientists are now planning to set their sights on using the hormone on trees to manipulate its growth rate, thereby upping the amount of wood that can be produced over a period of time, something they say may start a new generation of biofuels. Since the current downfall in the use of biofuel is its fundamental ingredients – biofuel comes from maize, a highly contested crop which can also be used for food – utilising a hormone which can promote the rapid growth of trees could yet prove significant, easing pressure on already overstretched crops.