Plant Cell 30(1) , 48-66 (Jan 2018)
Inflorescence architecture is a key determinant of yield potential in many crops and is patterned by the organization and developmental fate of axillary meristems. In cereals, flowers and grain are borne from spikelets, which differentiate in the final iteration of axillary meristem branching. In Setaria spp, inflorescence branches terminate in either a spikelet or a sterile bristle, and these structures appear to be paired. In this work, we leverage Setaria viridis to investigate a role for the phytohormones brassinosteroids (BRs) in specifying bristle identity and maintaining spikelet meristem determinacy. We report the molecular identification and characterization of the Bristleless1 (Bsl1) locus in S. viridis, which encodes a rate-limiting enzyme in BR biosynthesis. Loss-of-function bsl1 mutants fail to initiate a bristle identity program, resulting in homeotic conversion of bristles to spikelets. In addition, spikelet meristem determinacy is altered in the mutants, which produce two florets per spikelet instead of one. Both of these phenotypes provide avenues for enhanced grain production in cereal crops. Our results indicate that the spatiotemporal restriction of BR biosynthesis at boundary domains influences meristem fate decisions during inflorescence development. The bsl1 mutants provide insight into the molecular basis underlying morphological variation in inflorescence architecture.