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Dangerous Liaisons
Date:9/5/2007

Plant geneticists and animal breeders alike know the problem: single individuals or entire broods will not thrive, some die early, or remain, even if they survive, the runts of the litter and thus not useful for continued breeding programs. What is annoying for the breeder, fascinates geneticists and molecular biologists. The unfit offspring are an example that genetic material cannot always be combined at will. Apparently there are reproductive barriers that not only prevent the exchange of genes between well established species, but also between varieties of one and the same species. How these barriers arise is of central importance if one wants to understand the origin of biodiversity. A research team led by Detlef Weigel from the Max Planck Institute of Developmental Biology in Germany and Jeff Dangl from the University of North Carolina has now shown that a mis-regulated immune system can establish reproductive barriers and might be a first step toward speciation. The international collaboration studied a genetic incompatibility known as hybrid necrosis, using thale cress, Arabidopsis thaliana.

The new work, reported in the latest edition of PLoS Biology, was based on the observation that unfit hybrids from different plant species are very similar. Their growth is retarded, the leaves become yellow and necrotic, the tissue collapses and they often do not survive to make flowers; the syndrome is generally known as hybrid necrosis. "We suspected that hybrid necrosis is always caused by the same biochemical mechanism," explains Weigel, director at the Max Planck Institute.

To test this hypothesis, the scientists took 280 genetically different strains of Arabidopsis from all over the world, which they crossed in 861 different combinations. Most of the hybrid plants were strong and grew normally, but 20 - or two percent - of the crosses produced only small necrotic and unhealthy plants. Genomics-based experiments showed that these hybrids
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Contact: Prof. Dr. Detlef Weigel
weigel@tuebingen.mpg.de
49-707-160-11411
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert

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