Navigation Links
Gene discovery suggests way to engineer fast-growing plants

DURHAM, N.C. Tinkering with a single gene may give perennial grasses more robust roots and speed up the timeline for creating biofuels, according to researchers at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy (IGSP).

Perennial grasses, including switchgrass and miscanthus, are important biofuels crops and can be harvested repeatedly, just like lawn grass, said Philip Benfey, director of the IGSP Center for Systems Biology. But before that can happen, the root system needs time to get established.

"These biofuel crops usually can't be harvested until the second or third year," Benfey said. "A method to improve root growth could have a major role in reducing the time to harvest for warm season grasses."

Benfey's team appears to have found a way to do just that. They took a directed genomic approach aimed at identifying genes that become active when cells stop dividing and start taking on the characteristics of the mature, adult cell they are to become. "We systematically looked for those genes that come 'on' precisely when cells transition from proliferation to differentiation and then turn 'off' again just as quickly," Benfey said.

That genome-wide search in the roots of the familiar laboratory plant Arabidopsis and subsequent screening of mutant lines turned up a single gene, which the researchers call UPBEAT1 (UPB1). Further study showed that UPB1 controls the gene expression of enzymes known as peroxidases.

They then showed that these peroxidases control the balance of free radicals between the zone of cell proliferation and the zone of cell elongation where differentiation begins. (Although free radicals are probably most familiar as agents of stress to be combated with antioxidants, Benfey noted that the balance of free radicals has also been implicated in the control of a similar transition from proliferation to differentiation in animals.)

When the researchers experimentally disrupted UPB1 activity in the plant root, it altered the balance of free radicals such that cells delayed their differentiation and continued growing. Those plants ended up with faster-growing roots, having more and larger cells. When UPB1 activity was artificially increased, the growth of plant roots slowed.

"It's possible that by manipulating a single gene, you could get a plant with rapid growth," Benfey said. Interestingly, UPB1 appears to act independently of plant hormones that play well-known roles in the balance between cell division and differentiation.

From an engineering perspective, the prospect of enhancing growth by taking a gene away, as opposed to adding one, is particularly appealing, Benfey notes.

"It also suggests that plants are not growing at their full potential," he says. That makes sense, of course, as plants in the real world have to make tradeoffs, for example, between growth and reproduction.

In addition to their potential in biofuels production, the findings might also lead to new ways to produce bigger and stronger plants with the capacity to sequester more earth-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Benfey says. His startup company, GrassRoots Biotechnology Inc., has acquired the patent for this discovery with its potential in mind. The company's primary goals are the development of next-generation biofuels and the use of root systems for carbon sequestration.


Contact: Kendall Morgan
Duke University

Related biology news :

1. Chemical equator discovery will aid pollution mapping
2. Sirtris review of sirtuin therapeutics for diseases of aging in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery
3. Groundbreaking discovery may lead to stronger antibiotics
4. Discovery of natural compounds that could slow blood vessel growth
5. Nanoscopic screening process to speed drug discovery
6. FSU researchers discovery leads to $1.5 million grant, potential new treatment of liver fibrosis
7. New $11 million center to speed production of new compounds for drug discovery
8. Discovery of giant roaming deep sea protist provides new perspective on animal evolution
9. New discovery may enhance MRI scans, lead to portable MRI machines
10. Kidney function discovery sheds light on genetic complexity of disease
11. Discovery of new gene associated with diabetes risk suggests link with body clock
Post Your Comments:
(Date:6/22/2016)...  The American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics was ... as one of the fastest-growing trade shows during the Fastest ... in Las Vegas . ... in each of the following categories: net square feet of ... attendees. The 2015 ACMG Annual Meeting was ranked 23 out ...
(Date:6/16/2016)... SAN FRANCISCO , June 16, 2016 /PRNewswire/ ... Market size is expected to reach USD ... report by Grand View Research, Inc. Technological proliferation ... and banking applications are expected to drive the ... ) , The development of ...
(Date:6/3/2016)... 3, 2016 Das ... Nepal hat ein 44 ... geprägter Kennzeichen, einschließlich Personalisierung, Registrierung und IT-Infrastruktur, ... Produktion und Implementierung von Identitätsmanagementlösungen. Zahlreiche renommierte ... Januar teilgenommen, aber Decatur wurde als konformste ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/27/2016)... SAN DIEGO , June 27, 2016  Sequenom, ... company committed to enabling healthier lives through the development ... Supreme Court of the United States ... Federal courts that the claims of Sequenom,s U.S. Patent ... the patent eligibility criteria established by the Supreme Court,s ...
(Date:6/27/2016)... 27, 2016  Liquid Biotech USA ... of a Sponsored Research Agreement with The University ... (CTCs) from cancer patients.  The funding will be ... correlate with clinical outcomes in cancer patients undergoing ... then be employed to support the design of ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... June 24, 2016 , ... Researchers at the Universita Politecnica delle Marche ... with peritoneal or pleural mesothelioma. Their findings are the subject of a new article ... Diagnostic biomarkers are signposts in the blood, lung fluid or tissue of mesothelioma patients ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... Md. , June 23, 2016 A person ... from the crime scene to track the criminal down. ... the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses DNA evidence ... Sound far-fetched? It,s not. The FDA ... sequencing to support investigations of foodborne illnesses. Put as simply ...
Breaking Biology Technology: