"Crop seeds provide nearly 70 to 80 percent of calories and 60 to 70 percent of all proteins consumed by the human population," said Z. Jeff Chen, the D.J. Sibley Centennial Professor in Plant Molecular Genetics at The University of Texas at Austin. "Seed production is obviously very important for agriculture and plant evolution."
Chen and his colleagues, including David Baulcombe at the University of Cambridge, provide the first genetic evidence that seed development is controlled by maternally inherited "small interfering RNAs," or siRNAs.
They published their research April 3 in the journal PNAS.
SiRNAs are known to control a number of aspects of growth and development in plants and animals. The researchers used Arabidopsis, a rapidly growing flowering plant in the mustard family, for the study.
In this case, the researchers found that the siRNAs influence the development of a seed's endosperm, which is the part of the seed that provides nutrients to the developing plant embryo, much like the placenta in mammals. The endosperm is also the source for most of the nutritional content of the seed for humans and animals.
Despite the importance of the endosperm, little has been known about the molecular mechanisms that govern its growth.
In flowering plant seeds, the embryo is formed by fusion of one paternal and one maternal genome, while the endosperm combines one paternal and two maternal genomes. This process of embryo and endosperm formation is known as "double fertilization."
The scientists found that when a female plant with a duplicate genome (known as a tetraploid) is crossed with a male plant with a normal genome (called a diploid), not only is there an increase in the maternal genome in their offspring's seed endosperm, but there is also an associated increase in maternal siRNAs.
Those maternal siRNAs decrease the expression of genes that lead to larger endosperm growth, meaning that the siRNAs create smaller seeds.
"Now we understand that siRNAs play a large role in sensing maternal and paternal genome imbalance and controlling seed development, and that maternal control is important," said Chen.
The researchers are working to find out how exactly siRNAs regulate gene expression in the endosperm and embryo and how they control seed size. These new findings will enable scientists to develop biotechnological tools for improving seed production and crop yield.
But Chen cautioned that "bigger isn't always better." In fact, in his experiments, seeds lacking the control of the maternally inherited siRNAs grew so large that they collapsed.
Chen's research is funded by the National Science Foundation Genetic Mechanisms program. It was also the result of a Fulbright Award he received to do research with Baulcombe, a Royal Society research professor, at Cambridge. Baulcombe is widely recognized for his pioneering and seminal research discovering the role of siRNAs in gene silencing in plants.
Z. Jeff Chen | EurekAlert!
New yeast species discovered in Braunschweig, Germany
13.12.2019 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH
Saliva test shows promise for earlier and easier detection of mouth and throat cancer
13.12.2019 | Elsevier
Vaccinia viruses serve as a vaccine against human smallpox and as the basis of new cancer therapies. Two studies now provide fascinating insights into their unusual propagation strategy at the atomic level.
For viruses to multiply, they usually need the support of the cells they infect. In many cases, only in their host’s nucleus can they find the machines,...
More than one hundred and fifty years have passed since the publication of James Clerk Maxwell's "A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field" (1865). What would our lives be without this publication?
It is difficult to imagine, as this treatise revolutionized our fundamental understanding of electric fields, magnetic fields, and light. The twenty original...
In a joint experimental and theoretical work performed at the Heidelberg Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, an international team of physicists detected for the first time an orbital crossing in the highly charged ion Pr⁹⁺. Optical spectra were recorded employing an electron beam ion trap and analysed with the aid of atomic structure calculations. A proposed nHz-wide transition has been identified and its energy was determined with high precision. Theory predicts a very high sensitivity to new physics and extremely low susceptibility to external perturbations for this “clock line” making it a unique candidate for proposed precision studies.
Laser spectroscopy of neutral atoms and singly charged ions has reached astonishing precision by merit of a chain of technological advances during the past...
The ability to investigate the dynamics of single particle at the nano-scale and femtosecond level remained an unfathomed dream for years. It was not until the dawn of the 21st century that nanotechnology and femtoscience gradually merged together and the first ultrafast microscopy of individual quantum dots (QDs) and molecules was accomplished.
Ultrafast microscopy studies entirely rely on detecting nanoparticles or single molecules with luminescence techniques, which require efficient emitters to...
Graphene, a two-dimensional structure made of carbon, is a material with excellent mechanical, electronic and optical properties. However, it did not seem suitable for magnetic applications. Together with international partners, Empa researchers have now succeeded in synthesizing a unique nanographene predicted in the 1970s, which conclusively demonstrates that carbon in very specific forms has magnetic properties that could permit future spintronic applications. The results have just been published in the renowned journal Nature Nanotechnology.
Depending on the shape and orientation of their edges, graphene nanostructures (also known as nanographenes) can have very different properties – for example,...
03.12.2019 | Event News
15.11.2019 | Event News
15.11.2019 | Event News
13.12.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
13.12.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
13.12.2019 | Materials Sciences