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Growth Factors in Plants

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Biology

Plants are complex multicellular organisms and, much like animals, also require constant adjustments and adaptations to survive in their environment. To survive, plants must respond to external and internal changes to maintain homeostasis. Homeostasis is defined as the ability to keep a biological system’s internal environment stable through regulatory mechanisms so that it can be resistant to life-threatening change, especially external and uncontrollable environmental pressures. Let's learn more about how these changes affect growth factors in plants.

Plants respond to stimuli

Plants respond to various stimuli relating to changes in important elements to the plants’ survival. This includes:

  • Light
  • Water availability
  • Gravity
  • Carbon dioxide concentration
  • Infection by fungi and bacteria

The internal regulation needed to respond to a stimulus is even more relevant in plants because, unlike animals, plants can’t move. All plant responses must be limited to the place where they are rooted. Furthermore, plants don’t have a nervous coordination system like animals do. This means that response coordination between different parts of a plant’s body relies on chemical communication systems and plant hormone-like substances such as plant growth factors, abscisic acid (ABA), and ethene.

Plant hormones are therefore essential in directing responses to a variety of stimuli. Plant hormone messaging is achieved through interactions with membrane-surface or internal receptors of target cells. This interaction triggers internal chemical or ionic signalling that amplifies the signal/message and effectuates a response.

ABA is an example of a plant hormone widely produced throughout the plant body responsible for controlling plant responses to environmental stress such as water shortage. ABA is therefore known as the stress hormone, and its action triggers the plant stomata to close and reduce the loss of water vapour through the leaf, for example, or inhibit plant growth.

Stomata are tiny pores on the underside of leaves through which substances, such as oxygen and water vapour, can diffuse.

Plant responses to stimuli can be related to quick changes in turgidity in guard cells. Guard cells control the stomata opening through which leaves interact with the atmosphere and regulate carbon dioxide intake, which is essential for controlling the internal leaf environment and photosynthesis. However, most plant responses in reaction to stimuli like gravity or light consist of changing the growth of their roots or shoots by using plant growth factors.

Turgidity describes being upright and swollen due to the presence of water inside the plant cell.

Plant Hormones - Plant growth factors

Plant growth factors are chemical messengers made in small quantities by various tissues spread throughout the plant body and not specialised cells within glands like animal hormones.

Growth factors are transported through the phloem or xylem sap or can be diffused between cells directly to target nearby cells. This results in a growth-related response such as cell elongation affecting the direction of plant growth. There are essentially two types of plant growth factors: auxins, of which indoleacetic acid (IAA) is the most important and gibberellins.

Phloem and xylem are vascular plant tissues that transport assimilates (amino acids and sucrose) and water, respectively.

Gibberellins

Gibberellins are produced throughout the plant body in high concentrations in young leaves and seeds. These factors are essentially involved in regulating seed germination and controlling stem elongation.

Gibberellins are produced in the early stages of germination by the nascent plant embryo and stimulate cells to synthesise amylase, which is crucial to obtaining energy necessary for embryo growth.

Gibberellins are also present in plant stems, where they’re essential in determining their growth and how tall the plant is by stimulating cell division and cell elongation within the stem.

Germination describes the process by which a plant develops from a seed.

Amylase is an enzyme that catalyses the breakdown of starch into sugars that the germinating seed can use for growth.

Indoleacetic acid

Indoleacetic acid (IAA) is the most important auxin made by plants. This growth factor is produced in the dividing tips or meristems of roots and shoots and controls their growth by influencing plant cell elongation.

Meristem cells are undifferentiated cells in plants that have the ability to undergo cell division and differentiate into various plant tissues. They are the plant's stem cells.

IAA action results in plant cell elongation because it increases young plant cells' cell wall plasticity, allowing their expansion. The acid growth hypothesis presents a possible explanation for this mechanism. According to this hypothesis, IAA increases plant cell wall plasticity by stimulating targeted cells to increase the active transport of hydrogen ions from the cell cytoplasm into the cell wall. This acidifies the wall and loosens bonds in its structure, allowing it to stretch and become longer.

Tropisms

A tropism is a type of differential plant growth response to stimuli that allows plants to maximize their environmental conditions.

There are several types of tropisms depending on the nature of the originating stimulus, but all tropisms cause directional growth of a part of the body of a plant, like its shoots or roots. Types of tropisms include:

  • Phototropism (light stimuli)
  • Geotropism/gravitropism (gravity stimuli)
  • Chemotropism (chemical stimuli)
  • Thigmotropism (touch stimuli)

This growth can be directed towards the stimuli (positive response) or away from the stimuli (negative response), meaning the direction of the response (growth) is dependent on the direction of the stimulus. Below are two examples of the most relevant tropism responses in plants: phototropism and gravitropism.

Phototropism

Phototropism is the directional growth of plants’ body parts like shoots or roots dependent on the direction of light stimuli.

When plants grow in all-around light, whether bright or low light and normal gravity conditions, they tend to grow straight upwards; in low light conditions, plants tend to grow upwards more and faster than in bright conditions. However, phototropism happens when plants are exposed to unilateral light or light brighter on one side than another. When plants are exposed to these lighting conditions, phototropism causes shoots to grow towards the light source (or the brighter side) and roots to grow away. Since shoots grow in the direction of the stimuli, they have a positive phototropism, while roots that grow away have negative phototropism. These plant responses help ensure survival by making sure shoots receive as much light as possible to perform photosynthesis, and roots stay in the ground buried by moving away from the light should they emerge from the soil.

Negative and positive phototropism is the result of the plant body part being exposed to light and bending either towards or away from the light source. This bending response happens because of uneven IAA distributions throughout the plant body caused, in this case, by light stimuli.

Positive phototropism describes the growth in the direction of light stimuli. Negative phototropism describes the growth in the opposite direction of light stimuli.

As mentioned before, IAA is an auxin produced in the growing tips of shoots and roots and is evenly distributed throughout the plant body part in a normal illumination scenario. However, uneven light distribution stimuli cause accumulation of IAA on the more shaded side of the exposed plant body part. In shoots, cells on the shaded side with more IAA will start to elongate more and bend the entire structure towards the light. In roots, however, the opposite happens because higher concentrations of IAA will inhibit cell elongation, which means that the light side of roots will elongate faster than the shaded side, causing the root to bend away into the soil.

Gravitropism

Besides light, plants are also susceptible to gravity, which influences their growth direction through gravitropism. Like everything else on earth, plants receive the same unidirectional gravitation stimulus that pulls us down towards the core of the earth.

Responses to gravitational stimuli are important to control plant growth. For example, shoots that grow away from the gravitational pull into the light are negatively gravitropic, while the plant’s roots grow towards the gravitational pull into the soil and are therefore positively gravitropic.

Positive gravitropism describes the growth in the direction of a gravitational pull. Negative gravitropism describes the growth in the opposite direction of a gravitational pull.

Gravitropism effects are perhaps more evident in horizontally growing plants. In horizontally-growing plants, roots still display positive gravitropism and the shoots, negative gravitropism. Similar to phototropism, gravity influences IAA distribution in plants. When growing laterally, IAA accumulates on the lower side of the body part (root or shoot), meaning the side closer to the ground. In shoots, IAA accumulation promotes cell elongation, which means the lower side cells elongate, and the structure bends and grows upwards, much like it would if the plant were vertical. While in the roots, the IAA accumulation inhibits cell elongation, which means cells on the opposite side will elongate more, and the structure will bend and grow downwards.

Growth Factors in Plants - Key takeaways

  • Most plant responses involve changing their growth by using plant growth factors. There are two types of plant growth factors: auxins (IAA) and gibberellins.
  • IAA growth factor is the most important auxin that regulates plant growth. It does so by allowing cell elongation through increased cell wall plasticity of targeted cells.
  • Tropism is a type of differential plant growth response to stimuli that allows plants to maximize their environmental conditions.
  • Phototropism is a plant growth response to light stimuli. Gravitropism is a plant growth response to gravity stimuli. A negative tropism response means that plant growth happens in the opposite direction of the stimuli, while a positive tropism response entails plant growth towards the stimulus.
  • Roots are positively gravitropic and negatively phototrophic, while shoots are positively phototrophic and negatively gravitropic. Gravity and light influence IAA distribution in plant cells, enabling plant growth responses.

Growth Factors in Plants

Factors like light, water availability, gravity, carbon dioxide concentration, or infection by fungi and bacteria can affect plant growth and survival. 


Changes in these factors often trigger stimuli and consequent plant growth responses.

Light, temperature, water and nutrients.

Plant growth factors stimulate plant growth.

ABA hormones can inhibit plant growth.

Tropism allows plants to maximise the use of their environmental conditions like optimal light exposure.

Final Growth Factors in Plants Quiz

Question

Identify the two main types of plant growth factors.

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Answer

 Auxins and Gibberellins

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Question

____ also known as the stress hormone can inhibit plant_____.

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Answer

ABA, growth

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Question

Why does IAA result in cell elongation?

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Answer

Indoleacetic acid (IAA)  action in target cells increases active transport of hydrogen ions from the cell cytoplasm into the cell wall which acidifies the wall and increases its plasticity allowing it to stretch and become longer thus resulting in cell elongation.

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Question

A positive tropism is:


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Answer

Plant growth response towards the stimulus

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Question

Ethene is a plant growth factor. True or False?

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Answer

False

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Question

Roots are negatively _________ and shoots are _______ phototrophic.


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Answer

Phototropic, positively

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Question

How do gibberellins contribute to seed germination in some plants?

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Answer

Gibberellins are produced in the early stages of germination by the nascent plant embryo and stimulate cells to synthesize amylase which plays an important role in obtaining energy necessary for embryo growth.

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Question

Unidirectional light stimuli in plants causes ______.


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Answer

Phototropism

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Question

Why do shoots display positive phototropic responses?


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Answer

Shoots have leafs where photosynthesis occurs. In order for photosynthesis to occur light is required which is why shoots seek out as much light as possible.

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Question

Uneven IAA distribution in plants results in cell elongation and structure bending. True or False?


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Answer

True

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Question

Amylase stimulates the cell to produce gibberellins. True or False?

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Answer

False

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Question

What is amylase?

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Answer

Amylase is an enzyme that catalyses the breakdown of starch into sugars that the germinating seed can use for growth.

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Question

IAA is produced by meristems of plant roots and shoots. True or False?

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Answer

True

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Question

What is thigmotropism?


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Answer

A directional growth response (tropism) in response to touch stimuli.

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Question

What are stomata?


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Answer

Stomata are tiny pores on the underside of leaves through which substances, such as oxygen and water vapour can diffuse through.

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