UGA researcher comments on her team's discovery of the first 'jumping genes' in rice

University of Georgia researchers studying rice genomes, under a National Science Foundation Plant Genome award, have identified the species' first active DNA transposons or "jumping genes."

Dr. Susan Wessler, who headed the research team that published the findings in the journal Nature, made the following statements regarding the discovery:

"This is of particular interest at this time because rice is in the news with recent reports of two draft genome sequences by public and private projects and with 40 percent of these sequences derived from transposable elements. Rice is also the most important crop for human nutrition. As such, any discoveries in this plant are of international interest.

"Although genome sequences are available, rice lacks some critical resources that other organisms with sequenced genomes have. One of these is active transposable elements. Active TEs can be exploited and used to generate so-called "knock-out populations"; that is, ones in which the TE has jumped into a gene and inactivated it. This is an important resource, because it creates tagged mutations that can be used to link genes with phenotype, thus giving meaning and revealing function to the genomic sequence.

"We report the first active miniature inverted repeat transposable elements (or "MITEs") from any organism. Since their discovery in my lab more than 10 years ago, MITEs have been shown to comprise a significant fraction of the genomes of many plants, especially the grasses (rice, maize, wheat, sorghum and barley) and have been found in animal genomes including humans, zebrafish, mosquitoes and the worm (C. elegans).

"Of interest is that they are frequently associated with genes, where they are found in the non-coding regions and where they may play a role in diversifying the expression of genes. Changes in patterns of gene expression as opposed to changes in protein coding regions is thought to provide the raw material for the sub

Contact: Susan Wessler
University of Georgia

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