Published in the April 28th issue of the journal PLoS Genetics, the finding contributes to advancing our understanding of a broad range of biological processes in both plants and animals, opening the door to applications in cancer therapy and agriculture.
In everything from protein synthesis to gene expression to development, living cells depend critically for their survival on the successful functioning of their DNA. Certain DNA elements such as transposons, fragments of DNA that replicate within an organism's genome, can however disrupt this functioning and disable genes. To defend against such harmful elements, eukaryotic cells form inactive tightly-packed DNA called heterochromatin, whose dense structure serves to repress (“silence”) the expression of nearby gene sequences and protect the genome.
Earlier research identified the enzyme HDA6 as playing a key role in such “hetrochromatin silencing” in the model plant Arabidopsis, but the mechanism involved remained unclear. In order to clarify this mechanism, the research group investigated the involvement of HDA6 in two processes: DNA methylation, an epigenetic modification that changes the structure of DNA without altering its sequence, and the modification of histone, the main component of chromatin.
The RIKEN Plant Science Center (PSC), located at the RIKEN Yokohama Research Institute in Yokohama City, Japan, is at the forefront of research efforts to uncover mechanisms underlying plant metabolism, morphology and development, and apply these findings to improving plant production. With laboratories ranging in subject area from metabolomics, to functional genomics, to plant regulation and productivity, to plant evolution and adaptation, the PSC's broad scope grants it a unique position in the network of modern plant science research. In cooperation with universities, research institutes and industry, the PSC is working to ensure a stable supply of food, materials, and energy to support a growing world population and its pressing health and environmental needs.
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