The protein complex triggers communication between molecules along a pathway that leads to the creation of long protein strings, called actin filaments, that are necessary for cellular growth, said Dan Szymanski, agronomy associate professor and lead author of the study. Knowledge of the biochemical reactions involved in this process eventually may allow researchers to design plants better able to protect themselves from insects and disease.
"These genes and their proteins are required for normal development and for normal cell-to-cell adhesion," Szymanski said. "They affect the growth of the whole plant and also the shape and size of types of cells in the plant."
Results of the study are published in the February issue of the journal The Plant Cell.
"Perhaps by learning about this pathway for actin filament formation, we can engineer plant cells to grow in different ways or alter how cells respond to external stimuli so they can defend themselves against insect or fungal attacks," Szymanski said.
A protein complex known as Actin Related Protein 2/3 (ARP2/3) is a cellular machine that controls formation of actin filaments, which are important for cell growth and movement. Actin filaments organize the inside of the cell and allow it to grow, and they determine where certain structures in a cell are positioned and how plants respond to gravity and light.
Szymanski's team used a deformed version of a common research plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, and specifically looked at small, hairlike structures that exist on most cells. They found that the shape and size of these hairs, or trichomes, readily show when genes affecting actin filaments are askew and causing altered growth.
The researchers previously ha