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GREAT BARRINGTON, MA—This week, the prestigious magazine Science will publish the research of Eric Kramer, professor of physics at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. His findings reveal and quantify the laws that govern the formation of wood grain patterns in trees—a discovery that may advance the cultivation of drought-resistant species.

Dr. Kramer’s research combines experiment, biophysical theory, and computer models to study the transport of plant hormones and their role in plant development. Auxin—a hormone involved in many aspects of tree development—is synthesized in growing leaves and transported downward through the branches and trunk. An excess or deficiency of auxin causes the cells of wood-forming tissue to rearrange, giving rise to the characteristic grain patterns of mature wood [model sketch below]. Since the grain direction is also the direction of water transport, scientists may be able to use this discovery to develop genetically modified trees that need less water. In quantifying the relationship between hormones and cell growth, Kramer’s work is a step in that direction.

The use of a computer to model the movement of auxin is also new. “Developmental biologists traditionally say, ‘Auxin builds up at one place in the tree, and that accumulation turns on genes that trigger the development of a branch.’ It’s quite another thing to say how much hormone goes from place to place and to what extent the rate of cell growth changes.”

A trained physicist, Kramer’s unlikely jump to biology was inspired after he encountered an image of wood grain swirls in a science journal more than a decade ago. The swirls were similar to the patterns in turbulent fluids, liquid crystals, and magnetic systems he was studying at the time. It was then, Kramer says, that he realized “a physicist would have something to offer” the field.

For more information contact Dr. Eric Kramer at