Available Technologies

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Improved stress and nutrient response in plants via root hair regulation

This technology is aimed at improving crop production in the era of global climate change and rising fertilizer costs.


Feeding 7 Billion people is a global concern, and this problem continues to grow year-to-year. A large problem for the agricultural industry is finding a way to grow food on less arable land, while also decreasing expensive inputs (water, nutrients, chemicals, etc…), while still maintaining competitive yields. By identifying plants that can grow in stressed environments as effectively as normal conditions, we can begin to address this problem. A key driver for this will be plants that can more effectively take in water and nutrients, which will allow them to grow successfully in more challenging environments. 


Research within Professor Gregory’s laboratory in the Biology Department at the University of Pennsylvania has led to the discovery of gene regulation opportunities for improving crop plant traits in response to water, heat, and nutrient-stressed situations. The over expression of a particular gene causes an increase in surface area of the root by increasing the number of root hairs. Plants regulate the ratio of root hair to non-hair cells depending on environmental signals.

Studies have shown that increasing the root hair population increases the uptake of nutrients (e.g. phosphate) and water which enhances the plants ability to survive in stress environments; such as heat, drought, or nutrient deficient situations.

Plants grown under nutrient-poor conditions develop a higher density and longer hair cells. Roots can only absorb inorganic phosphates, present at very low concentrations in soil. This is why phosphate starvation is one of the most common nutrient stresses in plants, and is characterized by increased root hair length, increased root hair density, increased lateral root production branching away from primary roots, and upregulated secretion of acid phosphatases to produce inorganic phosphate from organic phosphate that can be subsequently absorbed by the plant. Testing has shown that overexpression of the targeted gene improves plant tolerance to phosphate starvation through a cascade of processes that results in increased phosphate uptake through changes in the root system.


  • Could be designed to promote optimal nutrient uptake in less arable situations or under stress of heat, nutrient deprivation, and/or drought
  • Could increase growth and development in plants based on increase in efficiency of absorption of nutrients


Develop crops that are readily able to survive in stressed situations or with the use of fewer nutrient inputs

Intellectual Property:

Provisional Pending

Desired Partnerships:

  • Licensing
  • Co-development

Patent Information:


Docket # 17-8052

For Information, Contact:

Cortney Cavanaugh Licensing Officer, SEAS/SAS Licensing Group
University of Pennsylvania