Plant scientists have known for some time that genes from the maternal plant control seed development, but they have not known quite how. The Oxford research, supported by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and highlighted in the new issue of BBSRC Business, has found at least part of the answer.
Working in collaboration with researchers in Germany and France, Professor Hugh Dickinson's team found that only the maternal copy of a key gene responsible for delivering nutrients is active. The copy derived from the paternal plant is switched off. This gene encodes a potential signalling molecule found in the endosperm - a placenta-like layer that nourishes the developing grain, which is involved in 'calling' for nutrients from the mother plant, and so triggers an increased flow of resources. Similar mechanisms can almost certainly be expected in other cereals, and with cereal grain being a staple food across the world, the potential to harness this science to improve yields is clear.
Prof. Dickinson explains: "By understanding the complex level of gene control in the developing grain, we have opened up opportunities in improving crop yield.
"The knowledge and molecular tools needed to harness these natural genetic processes are now available to plant breeders and could help them improve commercial varieties further. For example, they can better understand how to successfully cross-breed to produce higher quality crops. The cereal grain is a staple food of the world's population: with the changing climate and growing population, the need for sustainable agriculture is increasingly pressing."
The mechanism used to switch off paternal genes ensures supremacy of maternally-derived genes. This process is known as 'imprinting' and is achieved mainly through 'methylation' - a naturally occurring chemical change in the DNA. A very similar mechanism takes place in animal embryos. However, unlike the animal imprinting systems where genes are often grouped in the chromosomal DNA, in maize imprinted genes are 'solitary' and independently regulated.
Michelle Kilfoyle | alfa
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Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
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