Complexity is a fundamental feature of life. Like animals, higher plants consist of a multitude of different distinct tissues and cell types, each contributing to the overall performance of the whole organism. Our understanding and knowledge of physiology will greatly increase as our ability to spatially resolve molecular and biochemical processes improves. Differential analysis of individual tissues and single cells will eliminate the averaging effect and allow the discovery of detailed differences between various cell types. Recent breakthroughs have been made in tissue-specific DNA, RNA and protein analysis of plants by applying laser-based microdissection techniques.
A key distinguishing feature of the grasses is that their cell walls contain (1,3;1,4)-beta-D-glucans, which are distributed almost exclusively within the Poaceae. The identification of genes that mediate in (1,3;1,4)-beta-D-glucan biosynthesis has been possible through relatively recent genome sequencing programmes and comparative genomics techniques. The evolution of a single new gene appears to have been sufficient for the first synthesis of (1,3;1,4)-beta-D-glucans and there is compelling evidence that existing hydrolytic enzymes were adapted for the specific hydrolysis of the polysaccharide during wall turnover or degradation. Manipulation of the expression levels of genes involved in (1,3;1,4)-beta-D-glucan synthesis is likely to provide opportunities to enhance the value of grasses and cereals in commercial applications such as human nutrition and biofuel production.
Several more- or less-elaborated rice genome sequences have been produced recently using different strategies. It has become possible to compare them and to unravel the major features of the rice genome in terms of nucleotide composition, repeats, gene content and variability. It has also become possible to compare the rice and Arabidopsis genomes and to evaluate rice as a model genome.
Their small sizes have meant that the Arabidopsis and rice genomes are the best-studied of all plant genomes. Although even closely related plant species can show large variations in genome size, extensive genome colinearity has been established at the genetic level and recently also at the gene level. This allows the transfer of information and resources assembled for rice and Arabidopsis to be used in the genome analysis of many other plants.
Transposon mutagenesis facilitates gene discovery by tagging genes for cloning. New genomics projects are now cataloging transposon insertion sites to define all maize genes. Once identified, transposon insertions are 'hot spots' for generating new alleles that are useful in functional studies.
Two of the most important observations from whole-genome sequences have been the high rate of gene birth and death and the prevalence of large-scale duplication events, including polyploidy. There is also a growing appreciation that polyploidy is more than the sum of the gene duplications it creates, in part because polyploidy duplicates the members of entire regulatory networks. Thus, it may be important to distinguish paralogs that are produced by individual gene duplications from the homoeologous sequences produced by (allo)polyploidy. This is not a simple task, for several reasons, including the chromosomally cryptic nature of many duplications and the variable rates of gene evolution. Recent progress has been made in understanding patterns of gene and genome duplication in the legume family, specifically in soybean.
The comprehensive analysis of the genome sequence of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana has been completed recently. The genome sequence and associated analyses provide the foundations for rapid progress in many fields of plant research, such as the exploitation of genetic variation in Arabidopsis ecotypes, the assessment of the transcriptome and proteome, and the association of genome changes at the sequence level with evolutionary processes. Nevertheless, genome sequencing and analysis are only the first steps towards a new plant biology. Much remains to be done to refine the analysis of encoded genes, to define the functions of encoded proteins systematically, and to establish new generations of databases to capture and relate diverse data sets generated in widely distributed laboratories.
Surveys of nucleotide diversity are beginning to show how genomes have been shaped by evolution. Nucleotide diversity is also being used to discover the function of genes through the mapping of quantitative trait loci (QTL) in structured populations, the positional cloning of strong QTL, and association mapping.
DNA microarray technology is poised to make an important contribution to the field of plant biology. Stimulated by recent funding programs, expressed sequence tag sequencing and microarray production either has begun or is being contemplated for most economically important plant species. Although the DNA microarray technology is still being refined, the basic methods are well established. The real challenges lie in data analysis and data management. To fully realize the value of this technology, centralized databases that are capable of storing microarray expression data and managing information from a variety of sources will be needed. These information resources are under development and will help usher in a new era in plant functional genomics.
Chromatin states change dramatically during plant development. Globally, cytologically defined heterochromatin increases during cell differentiation and organ maturation, while it decreases during callus formation and protoplastization. Interestingly, around the time of bolting, heterochromatin content of leaf nuclei decreases transiently. Locally, chromatin compactness of the regulatory gene GLABRA2 is controlled by positional cues and correlates with transcriptional activity. In the case of the flowering time regulator FLC, chromatin compactness and histone modifications are controlled by environmental cues and ensure faithful maintenance of gene repression after vernalization. The combination of cytological studies, locus-specific analyses, and novel genome-wide profiling techniques should soon lead to a more detailed understanding of the mechanisms coupling intranuclear architecture and development.
Plasmodesmata remain one of the outstanding mysteries in plant biology. In providing conduits for the exchange of small and large, informational molecules they are central to the growth, development and defence of all higher plants. In the past few years, strategies have been devised for the molecular dissection of plasmodesmal composition and function, and we are beginning to see how these enigmatic structures will become to be understood.
High-throughput DNA sequencing and genotyping technologies have enabled a new generation of research in plant genetics where combined quantitative and population genetic approaches can be used to better understand the relationship between naturally occurring genotypic and phenotypic diversity. Forest trees are highly amenable to such studies because of their combined undomesticated and partially domesticated state. Forest geneticists are using association genetics to dissect complex adaptive traits and discover the underlying genes. In parallel, they are using resequencing of candidate genes and modern population genetics methods to discover genes under natural selection. This combined approach is identifying the most important genes that determine patterns of complex trait adaptation observed in many tree populations.
Advances in sequencing technology have brought opportunities to refine our searches for adaptive evolution and to address and identify new questions regarding how adaptive evolution has shaped genomic diversity. Recent theoretical developments incorporate demographic and complex selective histories into tests of non-neutral evolution, thereby significantly improving our power to detect selection. These analyses combined with large data sets promise to identify targets of selection for which there was no a priori expectation. Moreover, they contribute to elucidate the role selection has played in shaping diversity in transposable elements, conserved noncoding DNA, gene family size, and other multicopy features of genomes.
Genetic diversity for plant defense against microbial pathogens has been studied either by analyzing sequences of defense genes or by testing phenotypic responses to pathogens under experimental conditions. These two approaches give different but complementary information but, till date, only rare attempts at their integration have been made. Here we discuss the advances made, because of the two approaches, in understanding plant-pathogen coevolution and propose ways of integrating the two.
The growth of plant cells involves a constant adjustment of synthesis and rearrangement of cell wall polymers. Recently, three plasma membrane-bound receptor kinases related to CrRLK1 have been shown to be involved in the negative control of cell growth in different contexts. THESEUS1 is activated in mutants deficient for cellulose and may act as a cell wall integrity sensor inhibiting cell elongation. FERONIA is polarly localized in synergid cells of the female gametophyte and is required for growth cessation of compatible pollen tubes and subsequent delivery of sperm cells. AmRLK is involved in the control of the polar conical outgrowth of epidermal cells of Antirrhinum petals. The conservation of both extracellular and kinase domains suggests that the three receptors bind to related ligands and have similar cellular outputs, which may involve the production of reactive oxygen species.
Although five different classes of insect herbivore-produced elicitors of plant volatiles have been identified, this is only a part of the complex, chemically mediated interactions between insect herbivores and their host plants. The defensive reactions of the plant, following physical injury by the herbivore, are influenced by a multitude of factors including, but not necessarily limited to, the elicitors and numerous other herbivore-associated molecules, as well as microbes on the plant surface that may alter plant defensive pathways. Ultimately, a thorough and accurate understanding of the chemical ecology of insect-plant interactions will require a more holistic approach, taking into consideration the ecological and physiological context in which a plant perceives and responds to herbivore-associated signals.
Ecologically relevant genetic variation occurs in genes harbouring alleles that are adaptive in some environments but not in others. Analysis of this type of genetic variation in model organisms has made substantial progress, and is now being expanded to other species in order to better cover the diversity of plant life. Recent advances in connecting ecological and molecular studies in non-model species have been made with regard to edaphic and climatic adaptation, plant reproduction, life-history parameters and biotic interactions. New research avenues that increase biological complexity and ecological relevance by integrating ecological experiments with population genetic and functional genomic approaches provide new insights into the genetic basis of ecologically relevant variation.
Gram-negative soil bacteria (rhizobia) within the Rhizobiaceae phylogenetic family (alpha-proteobacteria) have the unique ability to infect and establish a nitrogen-fixing symbiosis on the roots of leguminous plants. This symbiosis is of agronomic importance, reducing the need for nitrogen fertilizer for agriculturally important plants (e.g. soybean and alfalfa). The establishment of the symbiosis involves a complex interplay between host and symbiont, resulting in the formation of a novel organ, the nodule, which the bacteria colonize as intracellular symbionts. This review focuses on the most recent discoveries relating to how this symbiosis is established. Two general developments have contributed to the recent explosion of research progress in this area: first, the adoption of two genetic model legumes, Medicago truncatula and Lotus japonicus, and second, the application of modern methods in functional genomics (e.g. transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic analyses).
Past efforts to improve plant tolerance to drought, high salinity and low-temperature through breeding and genetic engineering have had limited success owing to the genetic complexity of stress responses. Progress is now anticipated through comparative genomics studies of an evolutionarily diverse set of model organisms, and through the use of techniques such as high-throughput analysis of expressed sequence tags, large-scale parallel analysis of gene expression, targeted or random mutagenesis, and gain-of-function or mutant complementation. The discovery of novel genes, determination of their expression patterns in response to abiotic stress, and an improved understanding of their roles in stress adaptation (obtained by the use of functional genomics) will provide the basis of effective engineering strategies leading to greater stress tolerance.
The ongoing international efforts of the Rice Genomic Sequencing Project have already generated a large amount of sequence data. The next important challenge will be to construct saturation mutant lines for the functional analysis of all of the genes revealed by this effort in the context of the rice plant as a whole. Recently, the endogenous retrotransposon Tos17 has been shown to be an efficient insertional mutagen. Considering the ease of mutagenesis with Tos17 and its multiple-copy nature, saturation mutagenesis with this retrotransposon should be feasible in rice. Ongoing reverse-genetics studies, such as the PCR-screening of mutants and cataloguing of mutants by sequencing Tos17-insertion sites, as well as traditional forward-genetics studies, have clearly demonstrated that the Tos17 system can significantly contribute to the functional genomics of rice.
Given the prevalence of duplicate genes and genomes in plant species, the study of their evolutionary dynamics has been a focus of study in plant evolutionary genetics over the past two decades. The past few years have been a particularly exciting time because recent theoretical and experimental investigations have led to a rethinking of the classic paradigm of duplicate gene evolution. By combining recent advances in genomic analysis with a new conceptual framework, researchers are determining the contributions of single-gene and whole-genome duplications to the diversification of plant species. This research provides insights into the roles that gene and genome duplications play in plant evolution.
Comparisons of the Arabidopsis genomic sequence with sequences from other flowering plants have revealed that substantial colinearity exists between species in the arrangement of genes within chromosomal blocks. Although seen most clearly in short sequences (at the Megabase scale), this colinearity can also be found using dense genetic maps that are based on expressed sequence tags. The genomes of most diploid Angiosperms show evidence of polyploid ancestry, and the resulting duplicated blocks, which have been subject to deletion and rearrangements during evolution, form complex networks of homology both within and between species. These homologies should prove to be of value in exploiting the Arabidopsis sequence to identify candidate genes in defined chromosomal regions within genomes that are less well characterised.
Hybrid sterility is the most common form of postzygotic reproductive isolation in plants. The best-known example is perhaps the hybrid sterility between indica and japonica subspecies of Asian cultivated rice (Oryza sativa L.). Major progress has been reported recently in rice in identifying and cloning hybrid sterility genes at two loci regulating female and male fertility, respectively. Genetic analyses and molecular characterization of these genes, together with the results from other model organisms especially Drosophila, have advanced the understanding of the processes underlying reproductive isolation and speciation. These findings also have significant implications for crop genetic improvement, by providing the feasibility and strategies for overcoming intersubspecific hybrid sterility thus allowing the development of intersubspecific hybrids.
Polyploidy or whole genome duplication (WGD) occurs throughout the evolutionary history of many plants and some animals, including crops such as wheat, cotton, and sugarcane. Recent studies have documented rapid and dynamic changes in genomic structure and gene expression in plant polyploids, which reflects genomic and functional plasticity of duplicate genes and genomes in plants. Common features of uniparental gene regulation and nonadditive gene expression in regulatory pathways responsive to growth, development, and stresses in many polyploids have led to the conclusion that epigenetic mechanisms including chromatin modifications and small RNAs play central roles in shaping molecular and phenotypic novelty that may be selected and domesticated in many polyploid plants and crops.
Cyanogenic glucosides are present in many plants and their ability to liberate toxic HCN offers an immediate chemical defense response to herbivores and pathogens causing damage of the plant tissue. Countermeasures have evolved to overcome this type of defense and in some cases herbivores and pathogens are able to exploit the presence of cyanogenic glucosides to their own advantage. In plants, cyanogenic glucosides have gained additional functionalities as transporters of nitrogen and operation of an endogenous turnover pathway may enable plants to withdraw the nitrogen and glucose deposited in cyanogenic glucosides for use in primary metabolism. The aim of this review is to provide an overview of the new knowledge on these diverse functionalities of cyanogenic glucosides.
Genome doubling (polyploidy) has been and continues to be a pervasive force in plant evolution. Modern plant genomes harbor evidence of multiple rounds of past polyploidization events, often followed by massive silencing and elimination of duplicated genes. Recent studies have refined our inferences of the number and timing of polyploidy events and the impact of these events on genome structure. Many polyploids experience extensive and rapid genomic alterations, some arising with the onset of polyploidy. Survivorship of duplicated genes are differential across gene classes, with some duplicate genes more prone to retention than others. Recent theory is now supported by evidence showing that genes that are retained in duplicate typically diversify in function or undergo subfunctionalization. Polyploidy has extensive effects on gene expression, with gene silencing accompanying polyploid formation and continuing over evolutionary time.
Genome-wide expression analysis is rapidly becoming an essential tool for identifying and analysing genes involved in, or controlling, various biological processes ranging from development to responses to environmental cues. The control of cell division involves the temporal expression of different sets of genes, allowing the dividing cell to progress through the different phases of the cell cycle. A landmark study using DNA microarrays to follow the patterns of gene expression in synchronously dividing yeast cells has allowed the identification of several hundreds of genes that are involved in the cell cycle. Although DNA microarrays provide a convenient tool for genome-wide expression analysis, their use is limited to organisms for which the complete genome sequence or a large cDNA collection is available. For other organisms, including most plant species, DNA fragment analysis based methods, such as cDNA-AFLP, provide a more appropriate tool for genome-wide expression analysis. Furthermore, cDNA-AFLP exhibits properties that complement DNA microarrays and, hence, constitutes a useful tool for gene discovery.
Plant genomes lack homologues of the inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptor and protein kinase C, which are important components of the canonical phospholipase C signalling system in animals. Instead, plants seem to utilize alternative downstream signalling molecules, that is, InsP(6) and phosphatidic acid. Inositol lipids may also function as second messengers themselves. By reversible phosphorylation of the inositol headgroup, five biologically active plant polyphosphoinositides can be detected. Protein targets interact with specific polyphosphoinositide isomers via selective lipid-binding domains, thereby altering their intracellular localization and/or enzymatic activity. Such lipid-binding domains have also been used to create GFP based-lipid biosensors to visualize PPIs dynamics in vivo. Here, we highlight some recent advances and ideas on PPIs' role in plant signalling.
Members of the eukaryotic 14-3-3 family are highly conserved proteins that have been implicated in the modulation of distinct biological processes by phosphorylation-dependent protein-protein interactions. In plants, 14-3-3 mediated regulation of house-keeping proteins such as nitrate reductase and the plasma membrane localized H(+)-ATPase has been intensely studied. Recent proteome-wide approaches have indicated that the plant 14-3-3 interactome is comparable in size and functional complexity to its animal counterpart and, furthermore, shifted the focus of attention to signal mediators. In this regard, in vivo analyses of certain signaling proteins, such as BRASSINAZOLE-RESISTANT 1, a transcription factor controlling brassinosteroid responsive gene expression, verified an essential role for 14-3-3s in hormonal signal transduction processes.
Transposable elements (TEs) are massively abundant and unstable in all plant genomes, but are mostly silent because of epigenetic suppression. Because all known epigenetic pathways act on all TEs, it is likely that the specialized epigenetic regulation of regular host genes (RHGs) was co-opted from this ubiquitous need for the silencing of TEs and viruses. With their internally repetitive and rearranging structures, and the acquisition of fragments of RHGs, the expression of TEs commonly makes antisense RNAs for both TE genes and RHGs. These antisense RNAs, particularly from heterochromatic reservoirs of 'zombie' TEs that are rearranged to form variously internally repetitive structures, may be advantageous because their induction will help rapidly suppress active TEs of the same family. RHG fragments within rapidly rearranging TEs may also provide the raw material for the ongoing generation of miRNA genes. TE gene expression is regulated by both environmental and developmental signals, and insertions can place nearby RHGs under the regulation (both standard and epigenetic) of the TE. The ubiquity of TEs, their frequent preferential association with RHGs, and their ability to be programmed by epigenetic signals all indicate that RGHs have nearly unlimited access to novel regulatory cassettes to assist plant adaptation.
Many biological roles for plant 14-3-3 proteins have been suggested in recent months. The most significant of these include roles in the import of nuclear-encoded chloroplast proteins, in the assembly of transcription factor complexes and in the regulation of enzyme activity in response to intracellular signal transduction cascades.
In plants, once triggered within a single-cell type, transgene-mediated RNA-silencing can move from cell-to-cell and over long distances through the vasculature to alter gene expression in tissues remote form the primary sites of its initiation. Although, transgenic approaches have been instrumental to genetically decipher the components and channels required for mobile silencing, the possible existence and biological significance of comparable endogenous mobile silencing pathways has remained an open question. Here, we summarize the results from recent studies that shed light on the molecular nature of the nucleic acids involved and on existing endogenous mechanisms that allow long-distance gene regulation and epigenetic modifications. We further elaborate on these and other results to propose a unified view of various non-cell autonomous RNA silencing processes that appear to differ in their genetic requirement and modes of perpetuation in plants.
Recent work in plants and other eukaryotes has uncovered a major role for RNA interference in silent chromatin formation. The heritability of the silent state through multiple cell division cycles and, in some instances, through meiosis is assured by epigenetic marks. In plants, transposable elements and transgenes provide striking examples of the stable inheritance of repressed states, and are characterized by dense DNA methylation and heterochromatin histone modifications. Arabidopsis is a useful higher eukaryotes model with which to explore the crossroads between silent chromatin and RNA interference both during development and in the genome-wide control of repeat elements.
Recent studies of gene silencing in plants have revealed two RNA-mediated epigenetic processes, RNA-directed RNA degradation and RNA-directed DNA methylation. These natural processes have provided new avenues for developing high-efficiency, high-throughput technology for gene suppression in plants.
Plant disease control is entering an exciting period during which transgenic plants showing improved resistance to pathogenic viruses, bacteria, fungi and insects are being developed. This review summarizes the first successful attempts to engineer fungal resistance in crops, and highlights two promising approaches. Biotechnology provides the promise of new integrated disease management strategies that combine modern fungicides and transgenic crops to provide effective disease control for modern agriculture.
Small RNAs, including microRNAs (miRNAs), small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), and trans-acting siRNAs (ta-siRNAs), mediate gene expression and epigenetic regulation. While siRNAs are highly diverged, miRNAs and ta-siRNAs are generally conserved but many are differentially expressed between related species and in interspecific hybrids and allopolyploids. On one hand, combination of diverged maternal and paternal siRNAs in the same nucleus may exert cis-acting and trans-acting effects on transposable elements (TEs) and TE-associated genes, leading to genomic instability and endosperm and embryo failures, constituting a bottleneck for the evolution of hybrids and polyploids. On the other hand, cis and trans-acting small RNAs induce quantitative and qualitative changes in epigenetic regulation, leading to morphological variation and hybrid vigor in F1 hybrids and stable allopolyploids as well as transgressive phenotypes in the progeny, increasing a potential for adaptive evolution.
Genetic architecture refers to the numbers and genome locations of genes that affect a trait, the magnitude of their effects, and the relative contributions of additive, dominant, and epistatic gene effects. Quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping techniques are commonly used to investigate genetic architectures, but the scope of inferences drawn from QTL studies are often restricted by the limitations of the experimental designs. Recent advances in experimental and statistical procedures, including the simultaneous analysis of QTL that segregate in diverse germplasm, should improve genetic architecture studies. High-resolution QTL mapping methods are being developed that may define the specific DNA sequence variants underlying QTL. Studies of genetic architecture, combined with improved knowledge of the structure of plant populations, will impact our understanding of plant evolution and the design of crop improvement strategies.
In the past year, several cytochrome P450 genes have been identified that will be important for generating crop protectants and natural medicinal products. Among these are the 2-hydroxyisoflavone synthase (CYP93C) and the indole-3-acetaldoxime N-hydroxylase (CYP83B1) genes, which catalyze the formation of isoflavones and glucosinolates, respectively.
The establishment of abaxial-adaxial polarity in lateral organs involves factors intrinsic to the primordia and interactions with the apical meristem from which they are derived. Recently, a small plant-specific family of genes, the YABBY gene family, has been proposed to specify abaxial cell fate. Each asymmetric above-ground lateral organ expresses at least one member of the family in a polar manner, and loss- and gain-of-function studies indicate that they are sufficient to specify abaxial cell fate and that they act in both distinct and redundant manners.
Recent research shows that signals derived from nitrate are involved in triggering widespread changes in gene expression, resulting in a reprogramming of nitrogen and carbon metabolism to facilitate the uptake and assimilation of nitrate, and to initiate accompanying changes in carbon metabolism. These nitrate-derived signals interact with signals generated further downstream in nitrogen metabolism, and in carbon metabolism. Signals derived from internal and external nitrate also adjust root growth and architecture to the physiological state of the plant, and the distribution of nitrate in the environment.
Drought stress is one of the major limitations to crop productivity. To develop crop plants with enhanced tolerance of drought stress, a basic understanding of physiological, biochemical and gene regulatory networks is essential. Various functional genomics tools have helped to advance our understanding of stress signal perception and transduction, and of the associated molecular regulatory network. These tools have revealed several stress-inducible genes and various transcription factors that regulate the drought-stress-inducible systems. Translational genomics of these candidate genes using model plants provided encouraging results, but the field testing of transgenic crop plants for better performance and yield is still minimal. Better understanding of the specific roles of various metabolites in crop stress tolerance will give rise to a strategy for the metabolic engineering of crop tolerance of drought.
The past decade has seen some impressive successes in the metabolic engineering of biotechnologically important plant pathways. However, plant metabolic engineering currently proceeds more by trial and error than by intelligent system design. A change in philosophy away from studying pathways in isolation and towards studying metabolism as a network is necessary. To support this development, improvements in technologies for metabolic analysis, a wider adoption of metabolite-profiling approaches and significant innovations in data analysis methodologies are required.
In the past two years, the focus of studies of the genes controlling expression of defense responses in Arabidopsis has shifted from the identification of mutants to gene isolation and the ordering of genes within branches of the signal transduction networks. It is now clear that gene-for-gene resistance can be mediated through at least three genetically distinguishable pathways. Additional genes affecting salicylic-acid-dependent signaling have been identified, and double-mutant analyses have begun to reveal the order in which they act. Genes required for jasmonic-acid-dependent signaling and for induced systemic resistance have also been identified.
Progress in understanding starch biosynthesis, and the isolation of many of the genes involved in this process, has enabled the genetic modification of crops in a rational manner to produce novel starches with improved functionality. For example, potato starches have been created that contain unprecedented levels of amylose and phosphate. Amylose-free short-chain amylopectin starches have also been developed; these starches have excellent freeze-thaw stability without the need for chemical modification. These developments highlight the potential to create even more modified starches in the future.
The complex architecture and plasticity of the maize root system is controlled by a plethora of genes. Mutant analyses have identified genes regulating shoot-borne root initiation (RTCS) and root hair elongation (RTH1 and RTH3). Quantitative trait locus (QTL) studies have highlighted the importance of seminal roots, lateral roots, and root hairs in phosphorus acquisition. Additionally, QTLs that influence root features were shown to affect yield under different water regimes and under flooding conditions. Finally, proteome and transcriptome analyses provided insights into maize root development and identified candidate genes associated with cell specification, and lateral root initiation in pericycle cells. The targeted application of forward-genetics and reverse-genetics approaches will accelerate the unraveling of the functional basis of root development and architecture.
Plants have evolved elaborate systems for regulating cellular levels of indole-3-acetic acid (IAA). The redundancy of this network has complicated the elucidation of IAA metabolism, but molecular genetic studies and precise analytical methods have begun to expose the circuitry. It is now clear that plants synthesize, inactivate and catabolize IAA by multiple pathways, and multiple genes can encode a particular enzyme within a pathway. A number of these genes are now cloned, which greatly facilitates the future dissection of IAA metabolism.