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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Hydrology and Remote Sensing Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #327416

Title: The discovery of phytochrome: unlocking the secrets of plants and their connection to light

item Poulos, James - Jim
item Griesbach, Robert
item Hapeman, Cathleen
item Duke, Stephen
item ARMBRUST, KEVIN - Louisiana State University

Submitted to: Chemistry International
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/1/2016
Publication Date: 9/1/2017
Citation: Poulos Iii, J.A., Griesbach, R.J., Hapeman, C.J., Duke, S.O., Armbrust, K. 2017. The discovery of phytochrome: unlocking the secrets of plants and their connection to light. Chemistry International. 38:14-17.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland USA was recently designated an American Chemical Society National Historic Chemical Landmark for the seminal work of USDA scientists in the discovery of phytochrome, the ubiquitous plant pigment that controls plant growth and development in response to light. The discovery team was inspired by the work of Harry A. Borthwick and Marion W. Parker in the 1930s, which quantified photoperiodic phenomena and recruited Sterling B. Hendricks into the search for a chemical basis for non-photosynthetic responses of plants to light. Hendricks was a world famous soil chemist and member of the National Academy of Sciences before he became engaged in plant science. He hypothesized the existence of a photoreversible pigment that controls photoperiodism in flowering, seed germination, and many photomorphogenic processes in plants. Karl Norris and Warren Butler created the specialized spectrophotometer that was needed to detect the pigment in vivo. Harold W. (Bill) Siegleman, provided the biochemical expertise to isolate the pigment. The scientific stars aligned in one place, as they rarely do, to make the discovery complete. The discovery of phytochrome (a tetrapyrrole pigment, coupled to a protein), and the proof that it controls almost every aspect of a plant’s response to light was critical discovery for plant science. The ripple effects of their historic research have been tremendous, resulting in many laboratories and scientists worldwide focusing on phytochrome-related research. A dedication ceremony to mark this honor was held at BARC on October 21, 2015 and was followed by a symposium on past, present, and future research related to phytochrome.