Lessons from a century of apical dominance research

Beveridge CA, Rameau C and Wijerathna-Yapa A

Journal of Experimental Botany


The process of apical dominance by which the apical bud/shoot tip of the plant inhibits the outgrowth of axillary buds located below has been studied for more than a century. Different approaches were used over time, with first the physiology era, the genetic era, and then the multidisciplinary era. During the physiology era, auxin was thought of as the master regulator of apical dominance acting indirectly to inhibit bud outgrowth via unknown secondary messenger(s). Potential candidates were cytokinin (CK) and abscisic acid (ABA). The genetic era with the screening of shoot branching mutants in different species revealed the existence of a novel carotenoid-derived branching inhibitor and led to the significant discovery of strigolactones (SLs) as a novel class of plant hormones. The re-discovery of the major role of sugars in apical dominance emerged from modern physiology experiments and involves ongoing work with genetic material affected in sugar signalling. As crops and natural selection rely on the emergent properties of networks such as this branching network, future work should explore the whole network, the details of which are critical but not individually sufficient to solve the ‘wicked problems’ of sustainable food supply and climate change.