Stress gene found in plants

A single gene has been discovered that helps plants cope with stressful situations such as disease or poor environments – according to a report published in Nature, 26 February 2004.

Scientists at the universities of Bristol and Oxford isolated and characterised the gene called OXI1 from thale cress, a common roadside weed. OXI1 boosts the plant’s ability to stop fungal infection from spreading, and helps roots to grow despite poor conditions.

Dr Claire Grierson from Bristol University said: “This is a significant advance from traditional approaches, where investigators have to identify a different gene for each disease or stress they hope to fight. At Bristol we showed that the gene is not just important for overcoming disease, but is also involved in another type of stress – growing in difficult conditions. Genes similar to OXI1 are likely to be found in many other organisms, so in the long term this work may even give us insight into medical applications for humans.”

Thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) was the first plant to have its entire genetic code read. This understanding has already enabled biologists to protect wheat from disease and to double the yield of oilseed rape. Studying the OXI1 gene will help them understand more about how plants and other organisms deal with stress.

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