The word hormone is derived from Greek and means 'set in motion.' They are naturally produced within plants, though very similar chemicals are produced by fungi and bacteria that can also effect plant growth. A large number of related chemical compounds are synthesized by humans, they are used to regulate the growth of cultivated plants, weeds, and in vitro grown plants, they are called Plant Growth Regulators or PGRs for short. At the beginning of the study of plant hormones, "phytohormone" was the commonly-used term, but its use is less widely applied now.
Plant hormones are not nutrients, but chemicals that in small amounts promote and influence the growth, development and differentiation of cells and tissues. The biosynthesis of plant hormones within plant tissues is often diffuse and not always localized, because, unlike animals, which have two circulatory systems (lymphatic and cardiovascular) powered by a heart that move fluids around the body, plants use more passive means to move chemicals around the plant. Plants utilize simple chemical hormones that move more easily through the plant's tissues. They are often produced on a local basis within the plant body, plant cells even produce hormones that affect different regions of the cell producing the hormone.
Hormones are transported within the plant by utilizing four types of movements. For localized movement, cytoplasmic streaming within cells and slow diffusion of ions and molecules between cells are utilized. Vascular tissues are used to move hormones from one part of the plant to another, these include sieve tubes that move sugars from the leaves to the roots and flowers, and xylem that moves water and mineral solutes from the roots to the foliage.
Not all plant cells respond to hormones, but those cells that do, are programmed to respond at specific points in their growth cycle. The greatest effects occur at specific stages during the cell's life, with diminished effects occurring before or after this period. Plants need hormones at very specific times during plant growth and at specific locations. They also need to disengage the effects that hormones have when they are no longer needed. The production of hormones occurs very often at sites of active growth within the meristems, before cells have fully differentiated. After production they are sometimes moved to other parts of the plant where they cause an immediate effect or they can be stored in cells to be released later. Plants use different pathways to regulate internal hormone quantities and moderate their effects; they can regulate the amount of chemicals used to biosynthesize hormones. They can store them in cells, inactivate them, or cannibalise already-formed hormones by conjugating them with carbohydrates, amino acids or peptides. Plants can also break down hormones chemically, effectively destroying them. Plants also move hormones around the plant diluting their concentrations.
The concentration of hormones required for plant responses are very low (10-6 to 10-5 mol/L). Because of these low concentrations it has been very difficult to study plant hormones and only since the late 1970s have scientists been able to start piecing together their effects and relationships to plant physiology. Much of the early work on plant hormones involved studying plants that were genetically deficient in one or involved the use of tissue cultured plants grown in vitro that were subjected to differing ratios of hormones and the resultant growth compared. The earliest scientific observation and study dates to the 1880s; the determination and observation of plant hormones and their identification was spread-out over the next 70 years.
The five major classes are:
This class of PGR is composed of one chemical compound normally produced in the leaves of plants, originating from chloroplasts, especially when plants are under stress. In general, it acts as an inhibitory chemical compound that effects bud growth, seed and bud dormancy. It mediates changes within the apical meristem causing bud dormancy and the alteration of the last set of leaves into protective bud covers. Since it was found in freshly-adscissed leaves, it was thought to play a role in the processes of natural leaf drop but further research has disproven this. In plant species from temperate parts of the world it plays a role in leaf and seed dormancy by inhibiting growth, but, as it is dissipated from seeds or buds, growth begins. In other plants, as ABA levels decrease, growth then commences as gibberellin levels increase. Without ABA, buds and seeds would start to grow during warm periods in winter and be killed when it froze again. Since ABA dissipates slowly from the tissues and its effects take time to be offset by other plant hormones, there is a delay in physiological pathways that provide some protection from premature growth. It accumulates within seeds during fruit maturation, preventing seed germination within the fruit, or seed germination before winter. Abscisic acid's effects are degraded within plant tissues, during cold temperatures or by its removal by water washing in out of the tissues, releasing the seeds and buds from dormancy.
In plants under water stress ABA plays a role in closing the stomata. Soon after plants are water stressed and the roots are deficient in water, a signal moves up to the leaves causing the formation of ABA precursors there which then move to the roots. The roots then release ABA which is translocated to the foliage through the vascular system and modulates the potassium and sodium uptake within the guard cells, which then lose turgidity, closing the stomata. ABA exists in all parts of the plant and its concentration within any tissue seems to mediate its effects and function as a hormone, its degradation or more properly catabolism within the plant affects metabolic reactions and cellular growth and production of other hormones. Plants start life as a seed with high ABA levels, just before the seed germinates ABA levels decrease; during germination and early growth of the seedling, ABA levels decrease even more. As plants begin to produce shoots with fully functional leaves - ABA levels begin to increase, slowing down cellular growth in more "mature" areas of the plant. Stress from water or predation effects ABA production and catabolism rates which mediate another cascade of effects triggering specific responses from targeted cells. Scientists are still piecing together the complex interactions and effects of this and other phytohormones.
Auxins are compounds that positively influence cell enlargement, bud formation and root initiation. They also promote the production of other hormones and in conjunction with cytokinins, they control the growth of stems, roots, flowers and fruits. Auxins were the first class of growth regulators discovered. They affect cell elongation by altering cell wall plasticity. Auxins decrease in light and increase where its dark. They stimulate cambium cells to divide and in stems cause secondary xylem to differentiate. Auxins act to inhibit the growth of buds lower down the stems (apical dominance), and also to promote lateral and adventitious root development and growth. Auxins promote flower initiation, converting stems into flowers. Leaf abscission is initiated by the growing point of a plant ceasing to produce auxins. Auxins in seeds regulate specific protein synthesis, as they develop within the flower after pollination, causing the flower to develop a fruit to contain the developing seeds. Auxins are toxic to plants in large concentrations; they are most toxic to dicots and less so to monocots. Because of this property, synthetic auxin herbicides including 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T have been developed and used for weed control. Auxins, especially 1-Naphthaleneacetic acid (NAA) and Indole-3-butyric acid (IBA), are also commonly applied to stimulate root growth when taking cuttings of plants. The most common auxin found in plants is indoleacetic acid or IAA.
Cytokinins or CKs are a group of chemicals that influence cell division and shoot formation. They were called kinins in the past when the first cytokinins were isolated from yeast cells. They also help delay senescence or the aging of tissues, are responsible for mediating auxin transport throughout the plant, and affect internodal length and leaf growth. They have a highly-synergistic effect in concert with auxins and the ratios of these two groups of plant hormones affect most major growth periods during a plant's lifetime. Cytokinins counter the apical dominance induced by auxins; they in conjunction with ethylene promote abscission of leaves, flower parts and fruits.
Ethylene is a gas that forms from the breakdown of methionine, which is in all cells. Ethylene has very limited solubility in water and does not accumulate within the cell but diffuses out of the cell and escapes out of the plant. Its effectiveness as a plant hormone is dependent on its rate of production versus its rate of escaping into the atmosphere. Ethylene is produced at a faster rate in rapidly growing and dividing cells, especially in darkness. New growth and newly-germinated seedlings produce more ethylene than can escape the plant, which leads to elevated amounts of ethylene, inhibiting leaf expansion. As the new shoot is exposed to light, reactions by photochrome in the plant's cells produce a signal for ethylene production to decrease, allowing leaf expansion. Ethylene affects cell growth and cell shape; when a growing shoot hits an obstacle while underground, ethylene production greatly increases, preventing cell elongation and causing the stem to swell. The resulting thicker stem can exert more pressure against the object impeding its path to the surface. If the shoot does not reach the surface and the ethylene stimulus becomes prolonged, it affects the stems natural geotropic response, which is to grow upright, allowing it to grow around an object. Studies seem to indicate that ethylene affects stem diameter and height: When stems of trees are subjected to wind, causing lateral stress, greater ethylene production occurs, resulting in thicker, more sturdy tree trunks and branches. Ethylene affects fruit-ripening: Normally, when the seeds are mature, ethylene production increases and builds-up within the fruit, resulting in a climacteric event just before seed dispersal. The nuclear protein ETHYLENE INSENSITIVE2 (EIN2) is regulated by ethylene production, and, in turn, regulates other hormones including ABA and stress hormones.
Gibberellins or GAs include a large range of chemicals that are produced naturally within plants and by fungi. They were first discovered when Japanese researchers noticed a chemical produced by a fungus called Gibberella fujikuroi that produced abnormal growth in rice plants. Gibberellins play a major role in seed germination, affecting enzyme production that mobilizes food production that new cells need for growth. This is done by modulating chromosomal transcription. In seedlings a layer of cells called the aleurone layer wraps around the endosperm tissue: During seed germination, the seedling produces GA that is transported to the aleurone layer, which responds by producing enzymes that break down stored food reserves within the endosperm, which are utilized by the growing seedling. GAs produce bolting of rosette-forming plants, increasing internodal length. They promote flowering, cellular division, and in seeds growth after germination. Gibberellins also reverse the inhibition of shoot growth and dormancy induced by ABA.
Plant stress hormones activate cellular responses, including cell death, to diverse stress situations in plants. Researchers have found that some plant stress hormones share the ability to adversely affect human cancer cells For example, sodium salicylate has been found to suppress proliferation of lymphoblastic leukemia, prostate, breast, and melanoma human cancer cells. Jasmonic acid, a plant stress hormone that belongs to the jasmonate family, induced death in lymphoblastic leukemia cells. Methyl jasmonate has been found to induce cell death in a number of cancer cell lines.
The propagation of plants by cuttings of fully-developed leaves, stems, or roots is performed by gardeners utilizing auxin as a rooting compound applied to the cut surface; the auxins are taken into the plant and promote root initiation. In grafting, auxin promotes callus tissue formation, which joins the surfaces of the graft together. In micropropagation, different PGRs are used to promote multiplication and then rooting of new plantlets. In the tissue-culturing of plant cells, PGRs are used to produce callus growth, multiplication, and rooting.
Plant hormones affect seed germination and dormancy by affecting different parts of the seed.
Embryo dormancy is characterized by a high ABA/GA ratio, whereas the seed has a high ABA sensitivity and low GA sensitivity. To release the seed from this type of dormancy and initiate seed germination, an alteration in hormone biosynthesis and degradation towards a low ABA/GA ratio, along with a decrease in ABA sensitivity and an increase in GA sensitivity needs to occur.
ABA controls embryo dormancy, and GA embryo germination. Seed coat dormancy involves the mechanical restriction of the seed coat, this along with a low embryo growth potential, effectively produces seed dormancy. GA releases this dormancy by increasing the embryo growth potential, and/or weakening the seed coat so the radical of the seedling can break through the seed coat. Different types of seed coats can be made up of living or dead cells and both types can be influenced by hormones; those composed of living cells are acted upon after seed formation while the sead coats composed of dead cells can be influenced by hormones during the formation of the seed coat. ABA affects testa or seed coat growth characteristics, including thickness, and effects the GA-mediated embryo growth potential. These conditions and effects occur during the formation of the seed, often in response to environmental conditions. Hormones also mediate endosperm dormancy: Endosperm in most seeds is composed of living tissue that can actively respond to hormones generated by the embryo. The endosperm often acts as a barrier to seed germination, playing a part in seed coat dormancy or in the germination process. Living cells respond to and also affect the ABA/GA ratio, and mediate cellular sensitivity; GA thus increases the embryo growth potential and can promote endosperm weakening. GA also affects both ABA-independent and ABA-inhibiting processes within the endosperm.