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GLOBAL Discovery of plant 'nourishing
gene' brings hope for increased crop seed yield and food security 13-January-2012 Physorg.com View
University of Warwick scientists
have discovered a "nourishing gene" which controls
the transfer of nutrients from plant to seed - a significant
step which could help increase global food production.
The research, led by the University of Warwick in collaboration
with the University of Oxford and agricultural biotech research
company Biogemma, has identified for the first time a gene,
named Meg1, which regulates the optimum amount of nutrients
flowing from mother to offspring in maize plants.
Unlike the majority of genes that are expressed from both
maternal and paternal chromosomes, Meg1 is expressed only
from the maternal chromosomes.
This unusual form of uniparental gene expression, called
imprinting, is not restricted to plants, but also occurs
in some human genes which are known to regulate the development
of the placenta to control the supply of maternal nutrients
during fetal growth.
While scientists have known for a while of the existence
of such imprinted genes in humans and other mammals, this
is the first time a parallel gene to regulate nutrient provisioning
during seed development has been identified in the plant
The findings mean that scientists can now focus on using
the gene and understanding the mechanism by which it is
expressed to increase seed size and productivity in major
Dr Jose Gutierrez-Marcos, Associate Professor in the University
of Warwick's School of Life Sciences, said: "These
findings have significant implications for global agriculture
and food security, as scientists now have the molecular
know-how to manipulate this gene by traditional plant breeding
or through other methods to improve seed traits, such as
increased seed biomass yield.
"This understanding of how maize seeds and other cereal
grains develop – for example in rice and wheat - is vital
as the global population relies on these staple products
"To meet the demands of the world's growing population
in years to come, scientists and breeders must work together
to safeguard and increase agricultural production."
Professor Hugh Dickinson of Oxford University's Department
of Plant Sciences added: "While the identification
of MEG1 is an important discovery in its own right, it also
represents a real breakthrough in unravelling the complex
gene pathways that regulate the provisioning and nutritional
content of seeds."
The research, supported by the European Union, the Biotechnology
and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Royal Society
(BBSRC), is published in Current Biology.
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