Shaping Plants

Discovering a new tool for wild plant domestication

Why and how do plants grow the way they do, and can we change them?


This question lies at the heart of Dr. Michael G. Muszynski’s research in CTAHR’s Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences department. For more than 25 years, Mike has sought to better understand the molecular mechanisms of different plant processes. He has worked on plants’ flowering time, drought sensing and drought response, and the developmental mechanisms of yield components.

Now, Mike is researching how the shapes of plant leaves can be altered through the plant hormone cytokinin. By studying a mutant form of corn with misshapen leaves, Mike discovered that the altered shapes are due to increased cytokinin levels. He was able to artificially replicate the effect in normal-shaped corn by upping the cytokinin. His findings suggest that changing cytokinin levels could potentially change the shapes of fruits and flowers as well.


Mike’s paper, “The Maize Hairy Sheath Frayed1 (Hsf1) Mutation Alters Leaf Patterning Through Increased Cytokinin Signaling,” appears in the May 2020 issue of The Plant Cell and was honored as one of the best in its category by being summarized in the “In Brief” section of the journal.


The new research has exciting potential. “This type of information helps us understand what developmental control systems we can modify to improve traits in crops that already exist or to ‘domesticate’ new crops from wild species,” Mike explains. “This work shows the power of bringing together ‘wet lab’ molecular experiments, greenhouse studies, and genetics nursery field work to tackle big questions in plant biology.”


Read the preview paper here and a summary of the work here.