In a field of maize, no two leafy stalks of multicolored corn will look exactly the same, even though they grew from seed cells with identical genetic material.
How cells with identical genomes can express different traits is a longstanding biology puzzle. Now, a distinguished team of Florida State University scientists and a researcher from Florida A&M University (FAMU) will work on that puzzle with a new, $1.45 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
The cutting-edge pilot study is expected to shed light on the cellular mechanisms that regulate gene expression.
In other words, said Florida State molecular biologist Hank W. Bass, the project leader, this study intends to uncover the fundamental principles of how cells manage their genetic information.
"What we find will provide insights and valuable comparisons for understanding how other plants and animals regulate their genetic information," Bass said. "It may bridge a gap between molecular genetics and cell biology, and could have important implications for how to study and understand basic processes in humans such as development and disease."
In the process, the research could lead to better maize quality and yield. Bass noted that understanding genetic control of processes such as seed development and grain fill have major implications for improving the yield or quality of maize seed.
"In corn, the kernel stores food, energy and vitamins," Bass said. "These are the direct or indirect products of gene activity. Findings from this project are therefore likely to have important agronomic implications for improving corn."
Bass compares the genome of maize or any other plant or animal to a library, where each book represents a gene.
"Libraries have thousands of books, like genomes have thousands of genes, yet only a small portion of the genes in each type of cell are active at any given time," he said. "In the library an
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Florida State University