Plants produce a vast array of natural products, many of which we find useful for making things such as drugs. There are likely to be many other plant natural products that remain undiscovered or under-exploited, and research from The John Innes Centre, which is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), is uncovering more about the genetics and evolution of natural product pathways in plants. Researchers at JIC have recently discovered that the genes producing two of these products in the model plant Arabidopsis are clustered together, which is extremely rare in plants. An apparent 'evolutionary playground' in the plant's genome seems to have brought the genes together, and knowing how these clusters assemble and are controlled will be important for improving and exploiting the production of new natural products.
Gene clusters are common in bacteria, where genes needed to perform a specific task, such as producing an antibiotic, are grouped together in what are called operons. However in plants and animals, functionally related genes are normally spread throughout the genome. Professor Anne Osbourn of the John Innes Centre, whilst studying a natural antimicrobial compound produced by oats, found that the genes that made this compound were in fact clustered. Her group used the 'signature' of these genes' arrangement to search for other potential clusters, in the model plant Arabidopsis.
Publishing in the journal Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor Osbourn and her colleagues at Stanford University and France's Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) have now discovered the second of two gene clusters, both producing triterpene compounds. This allows them to look for common features of the gene clusters, giving new insights into how these clusters evolve.
Bacterial operons swap relatively easily between species, but the Arabidopsis gene clus
|Contact: Andrew Chapple|
Norwich BioScience Institutes