AmJBot explains Auxin to the perplexed

I’m delighted that there’s a review of Auxin in this month’s American Journal of Botany, Auxin activity: Past, present, and future by Enders and Strader. This might surprise a few of my friends as I’m not a fan of Auxin, Auxin is a difficult topic, and that’s why this review is so welcome.

Pink Perfection Camellia
Pink Perfection Camellia. Photo by Trish Hartmann. Construction by Auxin.

Auxins are hormones that are impossible to avoid if you’re studying botany. Sooner or later you’ll run into them. Recently in Annals of Botany they’ve been involved in inflorescence and floral organ development, adventitious rooting and xylogenesis, the growth of maize coleoptile segments and working with Arabinogalactan proteins in a paper with the best title I’ve seen in a while: Back to the future with the AGP–Ca2+ flux capacitor. AoB PLANTS is averaging a paper a month with an auxin influence this year to date (February).

What I find so confusing about Auxin is that it is everywhere, and it’s so well-known to botanists that it’s a necessary shorthand when writing a paper. This is great, but it makes papers featuring Auxin very difficult to read if you don’t already know about it. Enders and Strader cover a century of Auxin research for AmJBot and by placing Auxin research in a historical context, they help highlight how we know what we know about this very important hormone.

They start early with the quest to identify Auxin, but they highlight two key points in Auxin research in their review. One is the 1939 paper by Thimann and Schneider, The relative activities of different auxins. This pulled together what was known about Auxin, and helped clear some controversy. The other pivotal moment was adopting Arabidopsis as a model organism in the 1980s, and the associated advances of molecular biology that allowed experimentation with much greater resolution than before.

Like any good review there are plenty of links to other papers to read more, with major sections on metabolism, transport and signal transduction, but there’s also a helpful section at the end. Enders and Strader point to questions that are still open in Auxin research, like have all Auxins been discovered or are there still more to be found? There’s also an interview with Barbara Pickard on Kenneth Thimann which adds a human dimension to the research.

The impression I’ve had of Auxin research is that a lot of people have been finding out some really exciting stuff about the building blocks of plants. Reading one paper hasn’t turned me into an expert, but is has helped give me some idea about why people get so excited about Auxin.

You can pick up the paper free from AmJBot.