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Published: March 17, 2017
Posted: April 19, 2017

Researcher John Vogel with Brachypodium plants at the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute. [Image courtesy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory]

Grasses: The Secrets Behind Their Stomatal Success

Finding a grass gene impacting stomatal morphology underscores the importance of developing a mutant gene index.

The Science
The evolution of adjustable pores, or stomata, enables plants to modify their stomatal pore size to control the amount of CO2 that enters and water that escapes. Plants have evolved two kidney shaped guard cells that swell to create the stomate. In grasses, however, they have further evolved with the addition of two subsidiary cells flanking the guard cells, which may be linked to improved stomatal physiology. In a recent study, researchers identified a transcription factor needed for subsidiary cell formation using a genetic screen.

The Impact
Subsidiary cells, unique to grasses, have been linked to improved physiological performance. These cells enable a greater range of pore size and quicker stomatal responsiveness. The ability to better control water loss and increase carbon assimilation in plants could affect its ability to handle stressors such as drought and play a role in the health and yields of candidate bioenergy feedstocks. Understanding the water management mechanism could aid the identification and selection of individuals better suited for growing in otherwise marginal soils.

Brachypodium distachyon is a small, rapidly growing grass that serves as a model for candidate bioenergy grasses such as Miscanthus and switchgrass. For this reason, in 2010, the B. distachyon genome was sequenced and annotated as part of the Community Science Program of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI), a DOE Office of Science user facility. To further accelerate research in the development of biofuel feedstocks, a project to sequence thousands of B. distachyon mutants was selected for the 2015 CSP portfolio. This library of sequenced mutants will aid researchers in studying and rapidly identifying and ordering plants with mutations in any gene in their genomes.

Using a forward genetic screen, a Stanford University team identified a B. distachyon subsidiary cell identify defective (sid) mutant; as a result, the mutant is unable to produce subsidiary cells. In comparing the whole genome sequence of B. distachyon with the sid mutant, a 5-base pair deletion that encodes for the transcription factor BdMUTE was discovered. Further, BdMUTE was identified as a mobile transcription factor responsible for coordinating the development of subsidiary and guard cell complexes. The unique subsidiary cells in grasses may enable enhanced performance when stressors such as increased temperature or drought are placed on the plant. Though his contribution to the work predates his time at DOE JGI, JGI’s Plant Functional Genomics lead and study co-author John Vogel provided the team with the mutant population and showed them how to manipulate the plant for their studies.

Daniel Drell, Ph.D.
Program Manager
Biological Systems Science Division
Office of Biological and Environmental Research
Office of Science
U.S. Department of Energy

John Vogel
Plant Functional Genomics Lead
DOE Joint Genome Institute

U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science
Swiss National Science Foundation
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
National Science Foundation
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Raissig, M. T., J. L. Matos, M. X. A. Gil, A. Kornfeld, A. Bettadpur, E. Abrash, H. Allison, G. Badgley, J. P. Vogel, J. A. Berry, and D. C. Bergmann. 2017. “Mobile MUTE Specifies Subsidiary Cells to Build Physiologically Improved Grass Stomata,” Science 35(6330), 1215â€"18. DOI: 10.1126/science.aal3254. (Reference link)

Related Links
Stanford Press Release: Scientists reveal how grass developed a better way to breathe
JGI Brachypodium Resources
JGI Plant Flagship Genomes
JGI News Release: First Wild Grass Species and Model System for Energy Crops Sequenced
Brachypodium distachyon on Phytozome portal
JGI: Indexed Collection of Brachy Mutants

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Genomic Analysis and DNA Sequencing
  • Research Area: Plant Systems and Feedstocks
  • Research Area: DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI)
  • Mission Science: Sustainable Biofuels

Division: SC-23.2 Biological Systems Science Division, BER


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