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Headlines Published on 21 July 2006

Title European scientists unlocking the secrets of plant growth

Plants are invaluable sources of food, medicine, renewable materials and energy. But despite thousands of years’ experience cultivating them, we know surprisingly little about the biological processes that make them grow. The EU-funded Agron-omics project wants to change this by developing ways to characterise complex plant systems.

Opening our understanding of how plants grow with the simple Arabidopsis thaliana. © KULeuven
Opening our understanding of how plants grow with the simple Arabidopsis thaliana.
© KULeuven
While some of the pieces of the plant growth puzzle have already been identified, scientists are still missing the vital ‘grand’ links showing how plants function at different levels of organisation – whole plant, organ, cell, and down to the molecule.

For the first time, techniques exist or can be developed to characterise a multicellular system exhaustively at all relevant levels. And Agron-omics, a new EU-funded plant research consortium, is keen to be the one to decipher this network of biological processes involved in leaf growth. Coordinated by Belgium’s VIB-Ghent, the multi-million euro initiative has assembled fourteen top European research institutes and centres – in Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands and UK to learn what nature has known all along.

Plants are essential to our daily life. They provide us with food, medicine, and renewable sources of materials and energy. “It is, therefore, sobering to realise that, in comparison to cancer for example, we still know very little about the mechanisms involved in plant growth,” note the partners in the project from the John Innes Centre (JIC) in the UK. “Given their crucial role for mankind, it is vital that we improve our knowledge about the biology of plants,” they stress.

Social importance
The Agron-omics project, which stands for Arabidopsis Growth Network Integrating Omics technologies, will conduct an in-depth study of leaf growth in the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana. Over the next five years, this network of major European players in plant biology will perform experiments to identify the molecular components controlling growth and build mathematical models to explain how these components interact.

The significance of the initiative caught the attention of the European Commission, which is providing €12 million toward its success. It is one of the largest single grants awarded in this area of research in Europe which “is a clear indication of the social importance of a deep understanding of life processes in plants", according to the JIC.

Tackling this complex research subject are top scientists and institutions across Europe, including Belgium’s VIB-University of Ghent, the JIC, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, three Max Planck Institutes (for Molecular Plant Physiology, Developmental Biology, and Plant Breeding Research in Germany), and centres, such as Maia Scientific in Belgium and France’s Unité de Recherche en Génomique Végétale.

Source:  John Innes Centre, Agron-omics project

More information:

  • John Innes Centre
  • Agron-omics website
  • Sixth Framework Programme
  • Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health (FP6)

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