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University of Illinois research makes plant breeding easier

haracterized genes in order to determine their functions and family hood."

With many teams of researchers competing to finish this task first, Kotchoni said it has been an honor to have this model accepted as the new standard for RF protein nomenclature. This system has been developed as a building block for plant genomics.

"The nomenclature, which is designed to include new RF genes as they become available in the future, is not based on one species or another, but rather on the function of the gene itself," Seufferheld said. "This allows scientists to work with a wide range of plants and take a gene with known function(s) from one plant and transfer it into another plant to restore male fertility."

Corn growers only need to look back to the southern corn leaf blight epidemic in 1972 to see the importance of this scientific development.

In 1972, Texas-Cytoplasm Male Sterility (T-CMS) corn was heavily used in hybrid seed production because it eliminated the costly practice of hand detasseling. Nearly 85 percent of the U.S. corn crop was produced using T-CMS, which was highly susceptible to Helminthosporium maydis, the fungus that causes southern corn leaf blight.

Since then, understanding the function of RF genes in higher plants has been a priority of many researchers. "The first male sterility restorer ever characterized in plants was maize ALDH," Kotchoni said. "When this gene is altered, it causes male sterility."

Seufferheld said this will also be a great tool for studying plant evolution.

"We can follow how plants became domesticated," Seufferheld said. "It is easier now because we have all the structures of the RF proteins organized and can look at the evolution of these proteins in a systematic manner. If we just look at the sequence of the gene, part of the phylogenetic scene has been lost through evolution. However, the structure of protein provides more information that can go well into the p

Contact: Jennifer Shike
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

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