Photosynthesis is arguably the most impressive feat of nature, where plants harvest light energy and convert it into the building blocks of life at fantastically high efficiency. Indeed modern civilization became possible only with the cultivation of plants for food, shelter and clothing.
While scientists have been able to discover details of the fascinating process by which plants store solar energy as chemical energy, how developing plants build and regulate their solar reactors is still poorly understood. How many genes are involved, and which are the most important? How are different cell types endowed with specific biochemical capacities? What signals fine-tune how much sugar is produced, and which bioproducts are generated? The answers to these questions have applications in agriculture, bioenergy and climate change.
Complex and multifaceted questions such as these can be addressed using a new approach to measure gene expression using high throughput sequencing. This method, coined RNAseq, is detailed in a new report from scientists at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (BTI) and Cornell University published online in the journal Nature Genetics. The study, using the agronomically critical maize (corn) plant as a model, tracks through massive sequencing of gene transcripts, the full complement of expressed genes in a corn leaf. The researchers found that as the leaf develops, entire suites of genes are turned on and off. "Previous studies have often focused on understanding one gene or set of genes that underpin a specific pathway or process", notes Tom Brutnell, an associate scientist at the BTI and the senior author of the study, "However, these new tools have let us examine the expression of all genes in the leaf at very specific stages of development. This provides an unprecedented view of the genetic circuitry of the leaf."
While such results are exciting, they also pose big challenges as scientists wor
|Contact: Thomas Brutnell|
Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research