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Rapid evolution of defense genes in plants may produce hybrid incompatibility

One of the basic tenets of evolution is speciation in which populations of the same species become so genetically and morphologically variable that they can be classified as two different species. Individuals of these species may be capable of mating, but they may not produce offspring, and if offspring are produced, they will be sterile or so defective that they die before they are able to reproduce. Although speciation has been observed and studied since Darwin and Wallace first proposed their theory, the complex molecular mechanisms responsible are not yet fully known. One of these molecular mechanisms, hybrid necrosis, was studied by Dr. Detlef Weigel and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Germany. Dr. Kirsten Bomblies will present their results at the Presidents symposium at the annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists (July 11, 2PM). Bomblies and Weigel observed hybrid necrosis in crosses of thale cress, Arabidopsis thaliana, a member of the mustard family, and found that it is associated with plant genes that respond to pathogen attack.

Plants must frequently cope with environmental stresses such as heat, cold, high acidity or salinity, or attack by pathogens such as viruses or insect predators. Such stresses mobilize defense genes that initiate physiological responses that help the plants to survive. One such response is programmed cell death, which occurs in response to invasion by viruses or bacteria. The cells invaded by the pathogens are quickly marked by the plant for death so that the microbe cannot use them to replicate and spread to the rest of the plant. These types of genes have been shown to evolve rapidly, giving plants the capability to adapt to changing conditions and pathogens. Bomblies and Weigel found that the same type of gene is involved in hybrid incompatibility in Arabidopsis. Because these genes evolve so rapidly, there are likely to be different forms pr
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Contact: Brian Hyps
bhyps@aspb.org
240-354-5160
American Society of Plant Biologists
8-Jul-2007


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