Iowa State University Research Helps Find Root Development Key

January 25th, 2016

AMES, Iowa — Plant scientists better understand the mechanisms governing root development — opening the door to improving crop productivity — through work done at Iowa State University.

Guru Rao, professor of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology, and his research team collaborated with an international group of scientists on the discovery that was presented last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Priyanka Sandal, a graduate student in Rao’s lab, is a joint first author of the paper titled:  PP2A-3 interacts with ACR4 and regulates formative cell division in the Arabidopsis root.

“Identifying genes and establishing a molecular understanding of root cell differentiation affords opportunities to increase agricultural yields by breeding crop plants adaptable to growth in a variety of climatic conditions, especially a water-deficit environment,” Rao said.

Previous research found that a protein called ACR4 is the central player in the dual processes of maintaining stem cell identity and lateral root initiation during development. This study describes for the first time the properties of a protein phosphatase, PP2A-3, as a major player and regulator of ACR4-mediated stem cell differentiation and primary root development.

“The complex signaling consists of many proteins that interact with each other and in a specific order,” Rao said. “These processes must occur precisely to ensure normal cellular function; signals gone awry can have major consequences on plant health.”

The work was done in Arabidopsis, a plant frequently used for research, but most crop plants have similar genes for ACR4 and PP2A-3, he said.


Guru Rao, Roy J. Carver Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics & Molecular Biology, (515) 294-6116,
Ed Adcock, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications Service, (515) 294-2314,