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Growth rate regulation is associated with developmental modification of source efficiency


Plants modulate their growth rate according to seasonal and environmental cues using a suite of growth repressors known to interact directly with cellular machinery controlling cell division and growth. Mutants lacking growth repressors show increased growth rates1,2, but the mechanism by which these plants ensure source availability for faster growth is unclear. Here, we undertake a comprehensive analysis of the fast-growth phenotype of a quintuple growth-repressor mutant, using a combination of theoretical and experimental approaches to understand the physiological basis of source–sink coordination. Our results show that, in addition to the control of tissue growth rates, growth repressors also affect tissue composition and leaf thickness, modulating the efficiency of production of new photosynthetic capacity. Modelling suggests that increases in growth efficiency underlie growth-rate differences between the wild type and spatula della growth-repressor mutant, with spatula della requiring less carbon to synthesize a comparable photosynthetic capability to the wild type, and fixing more carbon per unit mass. We conclude that through control of leaf development, growth repressors regulate both source availability and sink strength to achieve growth-rate variation without risking a carbon deficit.

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Fig. 1: Detailed characterization of the enhanced growth phenotype of spt della.
Fig. 2: Constraining parameters to model Ler and spt della plant growth.
Fig. 3: Leaf and plant growth is source limited in Ler and spt della.
Fig. 4: Testing the causes of the enhanced growth of spt della using the Arabidopsis framework model.

Data availability

The data generated and analysed during this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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This work was supported by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant.

Author information




N.P. and S.P. designed the experiments. N.Z., A.D.A. and N.P. performed the experiments. N.P. analysed the data and performed the modelling. N.P. and S.P. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Steven Penfield.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary Figures 1–5, Supplementary Methods and Supplementary Table 1.

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Pullen, N., Zhang, N., Dobon Alonso, A. et al. Growth rate regulation is associated with developmental modification of source efficiency. Nature Plants 5, 148–152 (2019).

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