How do plants grow towards the light? © iStock

How do plants grow towards the light?

Phototropism is a complicated dance of microtubules fuelled by the growth hormone auxin and phototropin proteins.

Asked by: Brian Samson, Bromley


Plant cells contain a protein called phototropin that is mostly concentrated in the growing tip of the plant shoot. This protein unfolds into an activated state when it absorbs blue wavelengths of light. This sets off a cascade of interactions between different proteins in the cells, which ultimately changes the alignment of cellular scaffolding proteins, called microtubules.

The upshot of this is that the cells on the darker side of the shoot elongate, while those on the light side remain squat and boxy. As the dark side of the plant grows longer, the shoot as a whole bends away from that side and towards the light.

Recent research at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University, and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, found that the rearrangement of the microtubules can happen surprisingly quickly. Within minutes of exposure to blue light, plant cells will start making new microtubules.


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