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'MicroRNAs' control plant shape and structure

CORVALLIS, Ore. - New discoveries about tiny genetic components called microRNAs explain why plant leaves are flat.

The study may be a first step, researchers say, in revolutionizing our understanding of how plants control their morphology, or shape. A plant's ability to grow structures with a specific shape is critical to its normal function of capturing energy from the sun and producing products like grain and fiber.

As such, these findings could ultimately have profound implications for advances in agriculture.

The research was published online today in Nature, a scientific journal, by scientists from Oregon State University, the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the Salk Institute in California.

Understanding the genetic basis of plant shape is just one of the first outgrowths of research done with microRNAs, tiny bits of genetic material with powerful abilities to control gene "expression." Careful regulation of large sets of genes allows plants to specify which cells turn into leaf, root or other types of cells.

MicroRNAs work like a digital radar system to hone in on target genes. The target gene messenger RNA, which is the critical molecule that communicates normal gene functions, is either destroyed or inactivated through molecular processes that are directed by the microRNA. It is this type of negative regulation, or turning off expression of specific genes, that triggers development of plant parts with the proper shape.

"In this study we've demonstrated the real life consequences of a microRNA, showing how regulated destruction of a set of messenger RNA targets controls the shape of a plant's leaf," said James Carrington, professor and director of the Center for Gene Research and Biotechnology at OSU.

Collaborative research teams led by Detlef Weigel at the Max Planck Institute and Salk Institute, and Carrington at OSU, identified a micr
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Contact: James Carrington
carrington@orst.edu
541-737-3347
Oregon State University
20-Aug-2003


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