Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The Power of Flowers: Research Sprouts a Closer Look at Sunflower Genetics

23.01.2012
A Kansas State University researcher's plant genetic work is rooted in the sunflower state.
Mark Ungerer, associate professor of biology, has two major research projects that involve evolutionary change in sunflowers, the state flower of Kansas.

"What we do in the lab is referred to as ecological or evolutionary genetics," Ungerer said. "We study naturally occurring species and try to understand the genetic basis or genetic underpinnings of natural variation."

There are more than 50 species of sunflowers. Some are annual plants -- meaning they germinate, flower and die in one year -- and some are perennial plants that grow and bloom every year and live longer.

Ungerer's first project focuses on five species of annual sunflowers: two parent species and three hybrid derivative species. All three hybrid species arose from ancient hybridization events between the same two parents -- an unusual way for new species to develop, Ungerer said.

"What also makes the system unique is that the hybrid species are recently derived in the last half a million years," Ungerer said. "It seems like a long time, but that is actually pretty recent in evolutionary terms."

But there is another interesting aspect of the three hybrid species: While they have the same number of chromosomes as the two parent species, the hybrid species' genomes are 50 to 75 percent larger in terms of the amount of DNA.

Ungerer's research team made an important discovery that explains this DNA difference. The researchers studied long terminal repeat, or LTR, retrotransposons, which are mobile genetic elements that can copy themselves and insert the copies into various chromosome locations. Ungerer's team discovered that the hybrid species and the parent species were different because of massive proliferation events, or rapid reproduction, of the LTR retrotransposons. Not only that, these transposable elements are still active and cause mutations in sunflowers.

"It's like a smoking gun," Ungerer said. "It helps us study the process."

The researchers now want to know the triggers of these proliferation events and how the species have reacted to this increase in genome size. Ungerer has received $610,000 from the National Science Foundation to study these rapid proliferation events and how they affect the evolution of the hybrid sunflowers.

"Although virtually all plants and animals have these types of sequences in their genomes, we still know very little about what phenomena cause them to amplify and make extra copies of themselves," Ungerer said.

Ungerer is studying two naturally occurring phenomena -- hybridization and stress -- that are hypothesized to cause proliferation of these mobile DNA sequences. The group of five annual sunflowers provides an excellent system to study the roles of hybridization and stress because not only have the three hybrid species arisen from ancient hybridization events, but they also are locally adapted to harsh and stressful environments, unlike their parental species. Two of the hybrid species grow in the desert and the third hybrid species grows in salt marshes, Ungerer said.

Ungerer's second project looks at clinal variation of a perennial sunflower species. This species has a wide geographic distribution across central North America and grows in areas from Texas north to Manitoba, Canada. Ungerer wants to understand population differences between sunflowers in different parts of the region.

For this research, Ungerer's team is conducting common garden experiments, which involve gathering seeds from each of the populations across central North America. The Kansas seeds came from the Konza Prairie Biological Station. The seeds are then grown in the same common garden at Kansas State University.

"If you see differences among plants in a common garden experiment, you attribute that to genetic differences of populations at these different locations," Ungerer said. "We have found striking differences."

Some of these striking differences include germination and flowering time. For example, because the growing season in Manitoba is much shorter, sunflowers grow quickly and flower in about two months. In Texas, where the growing season is much longer, sunflowers grow much slower and the plants grow much larger before they flower in about seven months.

"Now we are trying to expand this research to look at some of the underlying genetics of these differences," Ungerer said.

His second project has been funded by the K-State Integrated Genomic Facility and the Division of Biology's Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.

In addition to his sunflower work, Ungerer has several ongoing research projects. He is studying freezing tolerance of Arabidopsis thaliana, a model plant species, across several geographic regions. He is also working with other K-State biology researchers to study mating patterns of the bison herd on the Konza Prairie.

Mark Ungerer, 785-532-5845, mcungere@k-state.edu

Mark Ungerer | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.k-state.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds
26.05.2017 | Cornell University

nachricht How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system
26.05.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'

26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>