Plants & Agriculture

Botanical Conservatory Endowment Fund Honors Legacy of Tim Metcalf

Plants aren't passive. Though we step on grass, brush against branches and pick petals, plants aren't just immobile organisms. And no one knows this better than Tim Metcalf, the director emeritus of the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory.

"They have their own personality," said Metcalf, who was initially hired as a laboratory assistant at the conservatory back in 1971. "Plants do crazy things and they surprise you." 

Unlocked Enzyme Structure Shows How Strigolactone Hormone Controls Plant Growth

As sessile organisms, plants have to continually adapt their growth and architecture to the ever-changing environment. To do so, plants have evolved distinct molecular mechanisms to sense and respond to the environment and integrate the signals from outside with endogenous developmental programs.

New research from Nitzan Shabek’s laboratory at the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences, published in Nature Plants, unravels the underlying mechanism of protein targeting and destruction in a specific plant hormone signaling pathway.

Plant Smoke Detectors Evolve as Hormone Sensors

Wildfires are devastating, but they can also bring new life by clearing existing vegetation and allowing new plants to spring up. Many plants in fire-prone areas actually require exposure to fire for seeds to germinate. In the past decade, scientists have discovered an ancient receptor protein that can detect molecules called karrikins in smoke from burnt plant material. The “smoke detector” protein, called KAI2, initiates molecular signals that speed up germination of seeds.

Breeding Plants With Genes From 1 Parent

Scientists are a step closer to breeding plants with genes from only one parent. New research led by plant biologists at the University of California, Davis, published Nov. 19 in Science Advances, shows the underlying mechanism behind eliminating half the genome and could make for easier and more rapid breeding of crop plants with desirable traits such as disease resistance.

Why Sunflowers Face East

Sunflowers face the rising sun because increased morning warmth attracts more bees and also helps the plants reproduce more efficiently, according to a study by researchers at the University of California, Davis. The results were published Aug. 9 in New Phytologist.

“It’s quite striking that they face east,” said Stacey Harmer, professor of plant biology in the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences and senior author on the paper. “It’s better for them to face east, as they produce more offspring.”

Drought Changes Root Microbiome

Drought can have a lasting impact on the community of microbes that live in and around roots of rice plants, a team led by UC Davis researchers has found. Root-associated microbes help plants take up nutrients from the soil, so the finding could help in understanding how rice responds to dry spells and how it can be made more resilient to drought. The work was published July 22 in Nature Plants.

Discovery Increases Likelihood of Growing Food Despite Drought

University of California scientists have discovered genetic data that will help food crops like tomatoes and rice survive longer, more intense periods of drought on our warming planet.

Over the course of the last decade, the research team sought to create a molecular atlas of crop roots, where plants first detect the effects of drought and other environmental threats. In so doing, they uncovered genes that scientists can use to protect the plants from these stresses.