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Domesticated tree crops may be the 'future of forestry'

can be a long and laborious process - especially in plants such as trees, which have life spans ranging from decades to hundreds of years.

Gene and enhancer trapping remove the need to produce mutant plants and instead identify genes based solely on their activity patterns. These methods rely on the insertion of a foreign piece of DNA, called a "trap vector," at random throughout the genome. This trap vector has a unique DNA sequence and carries a gene called GUS, which results in a blue color when activated.

When the trap vector lands near or next to a plant gene, GUS is expressed in the same manner as its neighboring gene. For example, if GUS lands beside a gene active only in the veins of the plant's leaves, then GUS will be active only in those areas, producing a blue color in the veins.

Researchers can pinpoint where in the genome the trap vector landed since the vector has a known DNA sequence. This allows them to home in on the gene responsible for the trait - in the example above, a gene active in the veins.

Of the two methods, gene trapping is more specific than enhancer trapping, but both are effective in locating genes of interest throughout the genome, Meilan said

Once a gene that controls a desired trait is identified, Meilan said, scientists could manipulate that gene's activity and, for example, produce a tree that flowers at a different time than other trees of the same species. Scientists also could transfer genes of interest, such as genes for insect resistance, into trees that don't have them.

Meilan's current goal is to identify the genes responsible for root development in trees, making it possible for foresters and nursery managers to propagate trees that, through conventional breeding, have attained a desirable set of characteristics.

Currently, the nursery and forestry industries rely on conventional breeding - mating male and female trees with ideal growth characteristics, sowing their see
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Contact: Jennifer Cutraro
jcutraro@purdue.edu
765-496-2050
Purdue University
10-May-2004


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