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From Needle-Like to Bladder-Shaped

Plant leaves come in a range of shapes and sizes, and researchers have begun to tease out the gene expression changes that affect how they form, Smithsonian Magazine reports.

Researchers from the John Innes Centre combined genetic analysis and computer modeling to show how gene expression could be directed to shape leaves. They in particular focused on the aquatic carnivorous plant Utricularia gibba, which has both needle-shaped leaves and bladder-shaped traps. As the researchers note, leaf formation largely depends on how genes are expressed in the adaxial and abaxial regions of developing leaves. As they reported in Science earlier this month, the researchers found that the same genes were expressed in the needle-shaped leaves as in the bladder-shaped traps. But through modeling, they found that a polarity field directs the growth and then by tweaking the growth rate, developing leaves could take different forms.

"All evolution would have to do to make a new shape would be to, instead of expressing a gene over a big area, express it over a smaller area," Nat Prunet from the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not part of the study, tells Smithsonian Magazine