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Gene study shows how rising temperatures affect plant growth

A young Arabidopsis plant grown at 20˚C

A young Arabidopsis plant grown at 20˚C Dr Kerry Franklin

A young Arabidopsis plant grown at 28˚C

A young Arabidopsis plant grown at 28˚C Dr Kerry Franklin

Press release issued: 28 November 2011

The molecular mechanism which makes some plants grow more rapidly when the temperature rises has been identified by researchers at the University of Bristol in a paper published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

The Bristol scientists, led by Dr Kerry Franklin, with colleagues at the University of Minnesota and the John Innes Centre in Norwich, found that raising ambient temperature from 20˚C to 28˚C promoted the rapid elongation of stems in plants with the gene PHYTOCHROME INTERACTING FACTOR 4 (PIF4).  Such rapid growth can have negative impacts on plant stability and crop yields.

In a previous study, published in Current Biology, Dr Franklin’s lab found that this response is missing in plants that lack the PIF4 gene.  This new study shows that PIF4 can increase the production of the plant growth hormone auxin and it is this that leads to the exaggerated height of plants grown at high temperature.

The team have further shown that this then leads to the activation of auxin-responsive genes in stems, providing a key mechanistic insight into this important growth response.

Although we are still at the early stages of understanding how temperature affects plant growth, research of this kind provides a tantalising glimpse of how science may be able to alleviate some of the damaging effects of global warming.

Dr Franklin said: “With global temperatures predicted to continue rising in the near future, understanding how plants respond to small changes in ambient temperature will be fundamental to establishing efficient crop production strategies over coming decades.”


Franklin KA, Lee S-H, Patel D, Kumar VS, Spartz AK, Gu C, Ye S, Yu P, Breen G, Cohen JD, Wigge PA and Gray WM. (2011) PHYTOCHROME INTERACTING FACTOR 4 regulates auxin biosynthesis at high temperature. PNAS

Research team

The University of Minnesota team was led by Dr Bill Gray and the JIC team by Dr Phil Wigge.


This work was funded by the Royal Society and Natural Environment Research Council (KF), the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (BG) and the European Research Council (PW).

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