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DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid): molecular instructions that guide how all living things develop and function...more

Enzyme: a protein that changes the speed of chemical reactions.

Gene: a region of DNA that instructs the cell on how to build protein(s). As a human, you usually get a set of instructions from your mom and another set from your dad... more

Phosphorus: 15th element on the periodic table of elements. Phosphates are mined to obtain phosphorus for use in agriculture and industry.

Virus: a super tiny germ that you can only see with a microscope. Viruses need a host in order to reproduce... more

Plant avatar

While this plant "avatar" or cartoon may look fairly simple, the code used to make it is more complex. Click for more detail.

Priming Plant Cells

Lots of video games have avatars, or characters you can make to look like you. Maybe yours would have dark hair, brown eyes, and a round face. While this is what you see displayed on the screen, the code the computer uses to make this avatar is much more complex. Other features might be hidden in the computer, like the code for blue eyes, but they don't appear on the screen.

Your body is more similar to this than you might think. Your body holds lots of "codes" or genes in your DNA. All of the DNA in your cells makes up your genotype. But only some of these genes are expressed, or used by your body. The genes that are used to give your features, like your eye color, hair color, or behavior, are a part of your phenotype. So the genotype is in the coding and the phenotype is your avatar.

How Can Researchers Change the Phenotype of a Plant?

By inserting a specific piece of DNA into the genetic code of a seedling.

Arabidopsis growth

The more AVP1 enzyme a plant expressed, the better it grew with the same amount of phosphorus. Click for more detail.

To get plants to grow more with less phosphorus, Dr. Gaxiola and his team inserted the gene that expresses the enzyme AVP1. This let the plant cells transport more sugars from the leaves to the rest of the plant. Plants with this added gene grow more leaves, shoots, and roots with very little phosphorus. The researchers also added a special piece of DNA from a virus. This DNA targets enzymes only in phloem cells.

Phloem are the tissues that transport sugars from the leaves to the roots. It's important to target this tissue because most of the benefits from AVP1 only happen when they are in phloem cells. Other work has shown that when AVP1 is decreased in phloem cells, but left at normal levels in other cells, plants are stunted and do worse. Research often needs to be very detailed like this to make breakthroughs in science.

Additional images via Wikimedia Commons. Cross-section of phloem and xylem taken by Gaxiola's lab using an electron microscope.

View Citation

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Bibliographic details:

  • Article: Priming Plant Cells
  • Author(s): Joshua Haussler, Karla Moeller
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: December 19, 2015
  • Date accessed: July 16, 2024
  • Link:

APA Style

Joshua Haussler, Karla Moeller. (2015, December 19). Priming Plant Cells. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved July 16, 2024 from

American Psychological Association. For more info, see

Chicago Manual of Style

Joshua Haussler, Karla Moeller. "Priming Plant Cells". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 19 December, 2015.

MLA 2017 Style

Joshua Haussler, Karla Moeller. "Priming Plant Cells". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 19 Dec 2015. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 16 Jul 2024.

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see

A close-up, cross-section view of the tube-like phloem and xylem tissues (looking into the tubes). 

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