New gene discovered for male fertility in plants

A new gene shown to be essential for pollen production in flowering plants has been discovered by scientists at Penn State University. A paper describing the team's discovery of the gene, whose activity they found is necessary for the formation of cells required for pollen production, will be published in the 1 August 2002 issue of the journal Genes and Development.

"This research is the first indication that a specific kind of protein known as a receptor-linked protein kinase, which results from the gene, is important for pollen production in the anther--the male reproductive organ in flowers," says Hong P. Ma, professor of biology and the leader of the research team that made the discovery. "Plant breeders eventually may be able to use this information to control pollination in important agricultural crops such as wheat, rice, and soybeans, where such control previously has not been feasible."

To identify the gene, the team worked with the Arabidopsis weed--a plant widely used in research laboratories and one of the few whose DNA has been so thoroughly studied that scientists know the order, or sequence, of essentially all its component nucleotide compounds, which make up the plant's genome. Although they have completely sequenced its genome, scientists are just beginning the process of discovering the function of the plant's 25,000 or so individual genes--the various groups of nucleotides strung end to end along its DNA.

To discover both the gene that is required for pollen development and its specific effect on the plant's anther cells, the researchers first generated a group of plants with different mutations and identified among them one plant with a mutation that disabled its ability to produce pollen. They then observed how the development of the mutant plant's pollen-production cells differed from that of a normal plant and they also used genetic techniques to determine specifically which gene was disabled by the mutation.

Contact: Barbara K. Kennedy
Penn State

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