Factor farming

Scientists and farmers can make the most of plant growth factors (hormones) to improve our food supply

Did you know that seedless grapes are naturally smaller than seeded ones? Probably not, because they look awfully similar. That’s thanks to gibberellins. Farmers spray the seedless ones with gibberellin to stimulate their growth to the ‘normal’ size.

Farmers can also apply gibberellins to make stems grow taller (see our growth factors comparison table). In sugar cane, for example, the sugar is stored in the stem, so spraying with gibberellin can help increase yields.

Other hormones are at work on your shopping. Bananas and tomatoes are picked and shipped when they are still green, and then sprayed on arrival with ethene gas, a ripening agent. This means they are less likely to be bruised.

Hormones can also be used to protect the growing plants. Synthetically produced auxins are used as weedkiller and cytokinins as fertiliser.

Lead image:

Zeetz Jones/Flickr


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Plants’ in May 2016.

Ecology and environment, Biotechnology and engineering
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development