'Knockout' research eases study of plant gene functions

A North Carolina State University geneticist has helped create a powerful new tool to assist plant researchers in their studies of individual gene functions in the so-called lab rat of plant research Arabidopsis thaliana, or mustard weed.

That's important, says Dr. Jose Alonso, assistant professor of genetics at NC State, because knowing the functions of specific genes in Arabidopsis gives researchers the ability to apply that knowledge to gene studies in other plants. Genetically, Arabidopsis has a great deal in common with other plants, Alonso says.

Alonso's work led to the creation of lines of Arabidopsis plants that have certain genes knocked out, or turned off. The seeds of these plants are held at a seed stock center at the Arabidopsis Biological Resource Center at The Ohio State University and are publicly available to researchers all over the world, making it much simpler for a scientist to study specific gene function in his or her own lab.

The research is presented in a paper published in the Aug. 1 issue of Science. Alonso is the paper's lead author.

To arrive at the findings, Alonso and his colleagues used a method called insertional mutagenesis, in which foreign DNA was randomly inserted into the Arabidopsis genome. When the foreign DNA hit a gene, that specific gene was turned off.

Of the predicted 29,454 genes in Arabidopsis the genome of the plant has already been sequenced, so scientists were able to accurately map the locations of the inserted DNA 21,799, or 74 percent of the genes, were knocked out using insertional mutagenesis, the paper states.

Now, libraries of Arabidopsis seeds with specific single genes knocked out have been compiled and are available for public consumption. Researchers studying a specific gene can quickly and easily search for an Arabidopsis plant that has a particular gene turned off, and order it from the Arabidopsis Resource Center.

Alonso started the project and

Contact: Dr. Jose Alonso
North Carolina State University

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