Scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have discovered the gene
controlling the stem juiciness trait in sorghum from a diverse selection of
Sorghum is the world's fifth most popular crop. Grain sorghum, a tough,
drought tolerant plant with dry, brittle stems, is used to make products
ranging from animal feed to industrial chemicals to gluten-free flour, and
is a promising source of biofuels. The less common juicy-stemmed sweet
sorghum varieties are used to produce a maple syrup-like product.
The scientists discovered the Dry gene functions as a master switch that
controls the expression of many genes that help determine the shape and
composition of the plant cell wall. Mutations in the Dry gene in
juicy-stemmed sorghum varieties lead to abnormal cell walls and even cell
collapse, but the high sugar content in these plants enhances their growth
and could lead to increased grain production. The scientists identified
similar genes in other crop species, providing the opportunity to shape the
level of stem juiciness in other plants as well.