Hybrid aspen WAT1 006An international research team located a gene which could allow them to control auxin hormone distribution in the cells of stem wood. Pictured is an early experiment by Bio4Energy researchers using the new knowledge to breed hybrid aspen. Photo by B4E.

An international team of scientists have realised a breakthrough which paves the way for researchers to start controlling growth and density in trees bred for bioenergy production, such as hybrid aspen.   

Bio4Energy researchers involved said the findings meant they now had a "handle" with which to manipulate the transport of the plant hormone auxin in wood producing cells found in the stem of trees. Their peer-reviewed article has been published in the well-respected scientific journal Nature Communications.

There appears to be agreement in the scientific community involved in research focused on plants which have a similar make up to wood that the hormone auxin is a regulator of plant growth. Yet, the international research team says in its new article, so far all attempts at regulating the kind of auxin transport in wood that could influence the wood's make up have failed.

That may be about to change, however. The team, led by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. of the University of Toulouse, succeeded in locating a protein which task is to transport the auxin through the growth stages of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. B4E researcher This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. said this WAT1 protein, as it has been named, could be a key to unlock the research community’s past unfruitful attempts at inducing more rapid growth or further densification of wood.

“This plant hormone [auxin] regulates cell development and secondary walls in wood cells. We have found a transporter of this hormone… which is involved in the formation of the secondary cell wall. With this [new knowledge] we try to change wood properties”, said Fischer of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, who coordinated B4E’s part of the work.

“Others have wanted to change the chemical properties of wood… since there are a lot of chemical hindrances to its break down, but here it is about [changing] growth characteristics”, he explained.

“The next step will be to regulate the function of the [WAT1] gene in wood", Fischer said;

“Our ultimate goal is full growth and dense wood. This is long-term work, but now we have a gene to work on.

“A model is there since a long time. It has been much discussed, but now we are able to actually test it”.


Scientific article

The scientific article corresponding to the research breakthrough described above is 'Arabidopsis WAT1 is a vacuolar auxin transport facilitator required for auxin homoeostasis'. It has been published as an open-access article in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Team members

The following researchers and organisations contributed to the 'Arabidopsis WAT1' breakthrough:


Centre National del la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France

Deborah Goffner - also of the University of Toulouse

Philippe Ranocha

Yves Martinez


Umeå Plant Science Centre, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden

Urs Fischer - Bio4Energy

Xu Jin - Bio4Energy

Judith Felten - Bio4Energy

Ondrej Novák

Karin Ljung - Bio4Energy


Institute of Plant Biology, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Réka Nagy

Stephanie Pfrunder

Enrico Marinoia


VIB, Belgium

Oana Dima

Kris Morreel

Wout Boerjan


Institut Claude Grigon, CNRS/UMR, France

Claire Corratgé-Faille

Benoît Lacombe

Jean-Baptiste Thibaud


Institut de Recherches en Horticulture et Semences, INRA/ACO/Université d'Angers, France

Jean-Pierre Renou


A press release concerning this news item has been sent to international and Sweden-based press and media.


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