Meet the WSU Researcher: Michael Neff

Part 1: What Plants See…Changes How They Grow

Washington State University botanist Michael Neff studies the way plants sense light and plants around them, and change their growth patterns accordingly. Plants use photoreceptors sensitive to far-red light to determine their proximity to other plants. These photoreceptors are different from infrared receptors used for photosynthesis.

“What I’ve been interested in forever is how plants use light as a source of information,” says Neff. “Plants have photoreceptors that are completely independent of photosynthesis and chloroplasts, that read their environment and say, ‘I am in full sunlight, I’m in the shade of another plant, I’ve got plants that are growing too close to me,'” and so on. The photoreceptors then trigger a host of hormonal reactions that influence how tall the plant will grow.

Determining how plants grow based on their light perception can possibly lead to better crops that produce more food.

Read more in “Seeing red (and far-red)” in Washington State Magazine.

Watch Part 2: A new biofuel crop for Washington farmers?