Seed World

Gene Discovery Holds Promise for Agriculture

A fundamental question pursued by plant scientists worldwide for the past decade has been answered by a researcher team led by the University of Sydney in Australia.
“Our findings have major implications for our understanding of how plants adapt to the environment,” says Rodrigo Reis, lead author of the findings published in Nature Plants. “What’s more, they indicate that similar processes occur in humans so the findings should be embraced by medical researchers and agricultural scientists alike.”
Reis is from the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment at the University of Sydney.
“Our research provides crucial insights into how we might improve the environmental adaptation of plants, including the yields of crop species,” he says. “It also has the potential to advance gene therapies that are being researched to address aging and diseases, including cancer.”
Although different cells and organs have exactly the same set of genes, the ability of any organism to turn certain genes on or off within each cell is central to the functioning of the organism. It defines the identity of cells, tissues and organs, and controls responses to the environment.
An important way in which this process is regulated is by tiny RNA molecules, called ‘microRNAs.’ Specific microRNAs control specific genes or sets of genes.
The researchers discovered that the microRNA mechanism that controls whether a particular cell destroys or simply represses the mRNA molecules in plants relies on ‘switcher’ genes.
Now that the researchers have found the switchers, it will be possible to manipulate them. Regulating the switcher mechanism should allow them to boost the capacity for environmental adaptation without interfering with development. According to the researchers, this has clear applications for plants affected by climate change.