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CSHL-Mexican team coaxes sexually reproducing plant to brink of asexual reproduction
Date:3/8/2010

ll plants have the potential to reproduce asexually. If so, the secret of unlocking that potential, it would appear, is the ability to repress the activity of Argonaute 9.

Argonaute 9 binds small interfering RNA (siRNA), which are studied by the team at CSHL led by Rob Martienssen, PhD. The new results build on the discovery by Martienssen's team last year of a similar mechanism in the male gametes of the plant, found in its pollen grains. They showed that siRNAs were passed from the cells immediately surrounding the gametes, called companion cells, into the adjacent sperm cells. The siRNAs inactivated, or silenced, specific DNA sequences in the sperm. Importantly, those sequences marked the position of transposons, the "jumping genes" discovered by CSHL Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock 60 years ago. If activated, they have the ability to jump around the genome, wreaking havoc.

In fact, says Martienssen, "it has long been speculated that transposons and sex co-evolved. But it has remained a mystery as to how transposons promote sexual reproduction. In the work we're reporting today, it appears that Argonaute 9 inhibits asexual reproduction -- apparently by silencing transposons." Martienssen says his lab will be pursuing the relationship between transposons and sex in collaboration with the Mexican team.


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Contact: Peter Tarr
tarr@cshl.edu
917-435-5068
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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