Root Waving and Skewing - Unexpectedly in Micro-G
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Gravity has major effects on both the form and overall length of root growth. Numerous papers have documented these effects (over 300 publications in the last 5 years), the most well-studied being gravitropism, which is a growth re-orientation directed by gravity toward the earth's center. Less studied effects of gravity are undulations due to the regular periodic change in the direction root tips grow, called waving, and the slanted angle of growth roots exhibit when they are growing along a nearly-vertical surface, called skewing. Although diverse studies have led to the conclusion that a gravity stimulus is needed for plant roots to show waving and skewing, the novel results just published by Paul et al. (2012) reveal that this conclusion is not correct. In studies carried out in microgravity on the International Space Station, the authors used a new imaging system to collect digital photographs of plants every six hours during 15 days of spaceflight. The imaging system allowed them to observe how roots grew when their orientation was directed not by gravity but by overhead LED lights, which roots grew away from because they are negatively phototropic. Surprisingly, the authors observed both skewing and waving in spaceflight plants, thus demonstrating that both growth phenomena were gravity independent. Touch responses and differential auxin transport would be common features of root waving and skewing at 1-g and micro-g, and the novel results of Paul et al. will focus the attention of cell and molecular biologists more on these features as they try to decipher the signaling pathways that regulate root skewing and waving.