Researchers have created the first comprehensive library of genetic switches in plants, setting the stage for scientists around the globe to better understand how plants adapt to environmental changes and to design more robust plants for future food security.
The collection, which took more than 8 years and $5 million to create, contains about 2,000 clones of plant transcription factors, nature's genetic on/off switches. Manipulating these transcription factors enables scientists to improve plant traits such as cold resistance or seed quantity. The research will be published July 17 in the journal Cell Reports.
"[Transcription factors] are like smart missiles that go into the nucleus and bind to specific sequences of DNA," said USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Dean Steve Kay, corresponding author on the study. "They will regulate genes, switching them on or off, according to how that cell needs to respond to its environment."
The library's clones of these "master switches" are stored in microtiter plates, which will be distributed to scientists worldwide, helping those in the underfunded field of plant research. Of all biomedical research, the federal government spends approximately 1 percent on plant research, according to the authors.
"Given how important food is to human health, that's rather concerning," Kay said. "Most people in the U.S. aren't worried about starvation, but they are worried about dying of cancer. To those of us who stand in the aisle of the supermarket, it's hard to believe there could be anything like a food shortage. It's like climate change it's not often right in front of your eyes."
"We wanted to make a high fidelity, gold standard collection of transcription factors that's going to serve the plant community all over the world," said Kay, who researches circadian rhythms, or the biological clock, in plants.
Jose L. Pruneda-Paz, co-first author on the paper
|Contact: Suzanne Wu|
University of Southern California