15.4.2 The Discovery of Plant Growth Regulators

Interestingly, the discovery of each of the five major groups of PGRs have been accidental. All this started with the observation of Charles Darwin and his son Francis Darwin when they observed that the coleoptiles of canary grass responded to unilateral illumination by growing towards the light source (phototropism).

After a series of experiments, it was concluded that the tip of coleoptile was the site of transmittable influence that caused the bending of the entire coleoptile. Auxin was isolated by F.W. Went from tips of coleoptiles of oat seedlings.

The ‘bakane’ (foolish seedling) a disease of rice seedlings, was caused by a fungal pathogen Gibberallafujikuroi. E. Kurosawa reported the appearance of symptoms of the disease in uninfected rice seedlings when they were treated with sterile filtrates of the fungus.

The active substances were later identified as gibberellic acid. F. Skoog and his co-workers observed that from the internodal segments of tobacco stems the callus (a mass of undifferentiated cells) proliferated only if, in addition to auxins the nutrients medium was supplemented with one of the following: extracts of vascular tissues, yeast extract, coconut milk or DNA. Skoog and Miller, later identified and crystallised the cytokinesis promoting active substance that they termed kinetin.

During mid-1960s, three independent researches reported the purification and chemical characterisation of three different kinds of inhibitors: inhibitor-B, abscission II and dormin. Later all the three were proved to be chemically identical. It was named abscisic acid (ABA).

Cousins confirmed the release of a volatile substance from ripened oranges that hastened the ripening of stored unripened bananas. Later this volatile substance was identified as ethylene, a gaseous PGR. Let us study some of the physiological effects of these five categories of PGRs in the next section.

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