The present invention relates to altering the biomass and/or structure of a plant, in order to maximise its potential as a source of feedstock or increase its potential as a feedstock for the paper industry. CLE41 and/or CLE42 are used to manipulate growth and structure of the vascular tissue of the plant. The present invention also provides plants in which the levels of CLE41 and/or CLE42 are increased compared to those of a native plant grown under identical conditions, and parts of such plants. Also provided are methods for using such plants or plant parts in the production of plant derived products such as paper or biofuels.

The present invention relates to manipulating the growth and/or structure of a plant through modulation of the amount of CLE41 and/or CLE42 expressed in the plant, and additionally or alternatively, modulating the amount of PXY in the plant. Manipulating the growth and/or structure of a plant can be used to alter the mechanical properties of a plant or plant derived product, or to maximise its potential for the production of plant derived products such as biofuels and paper.

In multi-cellular organisms, cells must communicate with each other in order for growth and development to occur in an ordered manner. In animals, it has long been known that polypeptides act as signalling molecules in mediating communication between cells, a common example being insulin in humans. These signalling molecules are responsible for initiating many cellular processes, typically by binding to a receptor at the cell surface, which in turn transmits a message to inside the cell via downstream signalling proteins such as membrane associated protein kinases (MAPK), tyrosine phosphatases and Ras proteins. In the cell, the cell signalling pathway end-point is usually a transcription factor target, which mediates a change in gene expression in the cell, thus causing a change in the growth and/or development of the cell in response to the initial extracellular signal.

In plants, it is also known that cell signalling occurs, and this was thought to be mediated by plant hormones such as auxin and cytokinin. More recently, the discovery of systemin has shown that polypeptides also play a role in cell-signalling in plants. One of the largest families of signalling polypeptides identified in plants is the Clavata3 (clv3)/Endosperm Surrounding Region (ESR)-related (CLE) family.

These proteins are the most highly characterised family of small polypeptides in plants. The Arabidopsis thaliana genome contains 32 CLE genes. Clv3 is the best characterised CLE family member which acts together with a receptor kinase (CLAVATA 1 ) to play a role in regulating the proliferation of cells in the shoot (apical) meristem. At present, however, most of the CLE family remain functionally undefined. The CLE gene family has been shown to be present in a variety of other plant species (Jun et al Cell. MoI. Life. Sci. 65 743-755 (2008) and Frickey et al BMC Plant Biology 2008, 8:1 10.1186/1471-2229-8-1) including rice, maize, tomato and alfalfa.

The polypeptides encoded by the CLE genes share common characteristics. They are less than 15kDa in mass and comprise a short stretch of hydrophobic amino acids at the amino terminus which serves to target the polypeptide to the secretory pathway. This conserved stretch of 14 amino acids is known as the CLE domain (Jun et al supra).

CA 2,735,890


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