Mutant analysis has been tremendously successful in deciphering the genetics of plant development. However, less is known about the molecular basis of morphological variation within species, which is caused by naturally occurring alleles. In this study, we succeeded in isolating a novel regulator of root growth by exploiting natural genetic variation in the model plant Arabidopsis. Quantitative trait locus analysis of a cross between isogenized accessions revealed that a single locus is responsible for approximately 80% of the variance of the observed difference in root length. This gene, named BREVIS RADIX (BRX), controls the extent of cell proliferation and elongation in the growth zone of the root tip. We isolated BRX by positional cloning. BRX is a member of a small group of highly conserved genes, the BRX gene family, which is only found in multicellular plants. Analyses of Arabidopsis single and double mutants suggest that BRX is the only gene of this family with a role in root development. The BRX protein is nuclear localized and activates transcription in a heterologous yeast system, indicating that BRX family proteins represent a novel class of transcription factors. Thus, we have identified a novel regulatory factor controlling quantitative aspects of root growth.
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