Pea Plant Stem Growth Gene Cloned

Cloning One Of The First-Studied Genes -- Mendel'S Tallness Gene -- Gives Scientists New Insight Into Plant Physiology

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Plant scientists from Cornell University and the University of Tasmania, Australia, have successfully cloned one of history's first-studied genes -- the gene for stem growth in peas, according to a report in the latest issue of journal The Plant Cell, which was published today.

Cloning the gene gives scientists a new way to account for why some plants are tall and some are short.

"This is one of the most important genes in history as it illustrates the principles of genetics," said Peter Davies, Cornell professor of plant physiology, who worked on this research during a recent sabbatical in Australia.

In a monastery more than 130 years ago, in what is now the Czech Republic, Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel selected seven distinct characteristics of pea plants and traced how those characteristics were passed through generations. One of the principal traits on which he worked was stem length, the primary determinant of plant height.

The plant scientists working at the University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia, isolated, cloned and obtained the DNA sequence of Mendel's historic tallness gene, and showed that it codes for gibberellin 3-beta-hydroxylase, a biosynthetic enzyme crucial to the division and elongation of the cells in the plant's stem.

Researchers Diane R. Lester, a molecular biologist; John J. Ross, a plant physiologist and James B. Reid, professor of genetics, all at the University of Tasmania, and Davies, will publish "Mendel's Stem Length Gene (Le) Encodes a Gibberellin 3b-Hydroxylase" in the August issue (Vol. 9, published August 26, 1997) of The Plant Cell, the journal of the American Society of Plant Physiologists.

In 1984, the Tasmanian group demonstrated that tallness in pea plants is regulated by an acid called gibberellin, or GA1, with promotes stem growth.

Contact: Blaine Friedlander
Cornell University News Service

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