Plant architecture is optimized for the local light environment. In response to foliar shade or neighbor proximity (low red to far-red light), some plant species exhibit shade-avoiding phenotypes, including increased stem and hypocotyl growth, which increases the likelihood of outgrowing competitor plants. If shade persists, early flowering and the reallocation of growth resources to stem elongation ultimately affect the yield of harvestable tissues in crop species. Previous studies have shown that hypocotyl growth in low red to far-red shade is largely dependent on the photoreceptor phytochrome B and the phytohormone auxin. However, where shade is perceived in the plant and how auxin regulates growth spatially are less well understood. Using the oilseed and vegetable crop species Brassica rapa, we show that the perception of low red to far-red shade by the cotyledons triggers hypocotyl cell elongation and auxin target gene expression. Furthermore, we find that following shade perception, elevated auxin levels occur in a basipetal gradient away from the cotyledons and that this is coincident with a gradient of auxin target gene induction. These results show that cotyledon-generated auxin regulates hypocotyl elongation. In addition, we find in mature B. rapa plants that simulated shade does not affect seed oil composition but may affect seed yield. This suggests that in field settings where mutual shading between plants may occur, a balance between plant density and seed yield per plant needs to be achieved for maximum oil yield, while oil composition might remain constant.
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