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Mutants from a lowly weed may solve maladies

COLLEGE STATION - Mutants from a lowly weed. That's where many solutions to maladies - from salt stress in plants to HIV in humans - may lie in wait for scientists to discover.

"I look for mutants. I take a sick plant and find out what's wrong," said Dr. Hisashi Koiwa, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station horticulturist.

It's the Arabidopsis plant, a common weed, that attracts Koiwa and other researchers because of its simple genetic makeup. Scientists have looked at every nook and cranny of the weed's DNA code.

The order of those code sequences known as A, C, T and G is what makes a human genetically both different from and similar to, say, the Arabidopsis, Koiwa noted. Because the Arabidopsis code sequence is known, he said, researchers are beginning to understand how particular genes work within the segments.

That's where mutants help. Researchers can simply "knock out" a particular portion of the Arabidopsis, then grow the mutated plant to see how it reacts to various conditions compared to "normal" Arabidopsis plants.

In Koiwa's case, the condition of choice is salt stress.

High salt levels are found in one third of the world's cropland and that means reduced yields, according to a report by Purdue University. Before coming to Texas A&M University in 2002, Koiwa was part of a Purdue team that discovered the gene and protein, known by scientists as AtCPLs and AtHKT1. AtCPLs tune plant gene expression under stressful environments, and AtHKT1 allows salt to enter plants.

Until the AtHKT1 discovery, no one knew how sodium gets into plants, Purdue reported.

With that information and wide collaboration, Koiwa hopes to steer continued work in his Texas lab around a mutant Arabidopsis plant which is much more sensitive to salt.

"With Arabidopsis, we know that there is a mechanism to 'pump out' salt from a cell, or move it from a critical part to a less critical part," Koiwa said. "We need to under
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Contact: Kathleen Phillips
ka-phillips@tamu.edu
979-845-2872
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications
4-Mar-2003


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