UW News

plant science


October 1, 2018

High CO2 levels cause plants to thicken their leaves, which could worsen climate change effects, researchers say

A tree canopy in a tropical rainforest.

When levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rise, most plants do something unusual: They thicken their leaves. Now two University of Washington scientists have shown that this reaction by plants will actually worsen climate change by making the global “carbon sink” contributed by plants was less productive.


September 24, 2018

Burst of morning gene activity tells plants when to flower

Arabidopsis thaliana plants flowering outside under natural light.

For angiosperms — or flowering plants — one of the most important decisions facing them each year is when to flower. It is no trivial undertaking. To flower, they must cease vegetative growth and commit to making those energetically expensive reproductive structures that will bring about the next generation. Knowledge of this process at the…


May 7, 2018

Stomata — the plant pores that give us life — arise thanks to a gene called MUTE, scientists report

A microscopy image of the surface of a plant.

New research in plants shows that a gene called MUTE is required for the formation of stomata — the tiny pores that are critical for gas exchange, including releasing the oxygen gas that we breathe.


January 22, 2018

Lab-made hormone may reveal secret lives of plants

Chemical structure of a plant hormone

By developing a synthetic version of the plant hormone auxin and an engineered receptor to recognize it, University of Washington biology professor Keiko Torii and her colleagues are poised to uncover plants’ inner workings, raising the possibility of a new way to ripen fruits such as strawberries and tomatoes.


September 27, 2016

Researchers modify yeast to show how plants respond to a key hormone

a mutant plant

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a novel toolkit based on modified yeast cells to tease out how plant genes and proteins respond to auxin, the most ubiquitous plant hormone. Their system, described in a paper published Sept. 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, allowed them to decode auxin’s basic effects on the diverse family of genes that plants utilize to detect and interpret auxin-driven messages.


August 29, 2016

Plants’ future water use affects long-term drought estimates

farmers in field

Many popular long-term drought estimates ignore the fact that plants will be less thirsty as carbon dioxide goes up. Plants’ lower water use could roughly halve some current estimates for the extent of future drought, especially in central Africa and temperate Asia.


August 18, 2016

Follow your nose: UW’s young corpse flower relocates to Volunteer Park Conservatory for fetid first bloom

corpse flower

Visitors to Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory are in for a stinking treat, courtesy of the Department of Biology at the University of Washington. The conservatory has taken in a young corpse lily, affectionately known as Dougsley, which is set to blossom this week or next.


June 29, 2015

Researchers discover how petunias know when to smell good

Image of the common garden petunia

A team of UW biologists has identified a key mechanism plants use to decide when to release their floral scents to attract pollinators.


June 17, 2015

Plants make big decisions with microscopic cellular competition

A picture of stomata.

A team of University of Washington researchers has identified a mechanism that some plant cells use to receive complex and contradictory messages from their neighbors.


November 6, 2013

Floods didn’t provide nitrogen ‘fix’ for earliest crops in frigid north

Trees, sediments in floodplain

Floods didn’t make floodplains fertile during the dawn of human agriculture in the Earth’s far north. Turns out early human inhabitants can mainly thank cyanobacteria. It raises the question of whether modern farmers might reduce fertilizer use by taking advantage of cyanobacteria that occur, not just in the floodplains studied, but in soils around the world.