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Biologists find unusual plant gene: abstinence by mutual consent
Date:12/20/2007

Biologists at the University of California, San Diego have discovered a gene in plants that disrupts fertilization only when mutations in the gene are present in both the female and male reproductive cells.

Their discovery, detailed in a paper that appears online today in the journal Current Biology, has been named the abstinence by mutual consent mutation because of its unusual properties.

Mutations that do not allow fertilization are known in plants, but usually these mutations are caused either by a mutation in the female reproductive cells or by a mutation in the male reproductive cells, said Julian Schroeder, a professor of biological sciences at UCSD who headed the study. In this gene, when only the female carries the mutation, completely normal fertilization occurs, and when only the male carries the mutation, fertilization also occurs. But fertilization is completely disrupted when both male and female reproductive cells carry the mutation simultaneously.

The scientists say the discovery of new genes that control the ability of plants to undergo fertilization could have important applications to plant breeders and conservationists.

Mutations that cause infertility in crops can provide a powerful tool for breeders who would like to avoid crossing of their plants to related species, said Aurelien Boisson-Dernier, a postdoctoral scholar in Schroeders UCSD laboratory and the first author of the study. Conversely breeders would at times like to breed crops by crossing them into distantly related species that however do not allow crossing due to infertility. For example, adding beneficial stress resistance genes from another species may not be possible if the male and female reproductive cells cant communicate properly. Understanding the mechanisms that mediate male-female communication during fertilization could help in circumventing the barrier of such interspecies crosses for breeding new varieties.

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Contact: Kim McDonald
kmcdonald@ucsd.edu
858-534-7572
University of California - San Diego
Source:Eurekalert

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