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Research gaining momentum by silencing genes

Research gaining momentum by silencing genes

Ghent Along with five European academic laboratories, researchers from the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) connected to Ghent University are accelerating the study of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Taking advantage of the new RNAi technology, they are able to study the function of genes with the aid of specially designed fragments that turn off the corresponding genes. The scientists are building a collection of such fragments in Arabidopsis. Their ultimate goal is to contribute to the elucidation of the functions of all the genes in this model organism. Furthermore, this collection will also benefit research into other organisms, namely humans and animals.

A model system for plants, animals and humans

Arabidopsis thaliana or the mouse-ear cress (a member of the mustard family) is a weed that is cultivated in numerous labs. Indeed, due to its genetic simplicity - it contains 'only' 29,000 genes - it is the most widely studied plant. The DNA sequence of Arabidopsis has been known for several years, and scientists worldwide are now concentrating on the search for the genes and the function of the proteins involved. Not only will this lead to new insights into the functioning of plant cells, which is important for agriculture and nutrition, but it will also shed light on the role of animal and human genes. More and more, scientists are discovering that biological processes in animals and humans are comparable to processes in plants.

Recent technology for studying genes

At present, we know the function of only 5000 Arabidopsis genes - and scientists want to identify the function of the other 80% as quickly as possible. Until recently, they would have done this gene by gene, but research is rapidly evolving towards investigating multiple genes in parallel. Of course, new technologies are always needed to make these leaps, and RNAi
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Contact: Sooike Stoops
sooike.stoops@vib.be
32-9-244-6611
VIB, Flanders Interuniversity Institute of Biotechnology
15-Oct-2004


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