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Researchers attach genes to minichromosomes in maize

COLUMBIA, Mo. - A team of scientists at the University of Missouri-Columbia has discovered a way to create engineered minichromosomes in maize and attach genes to those minichromosomes. This discovery opens new possibilities for the development of crops that are multiply resistant to viruses, insects, fungi, bacteria and herbicides, and for the development of proteins and metabolites that can be used to treat human illnesses.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Weichang Yu, Fangpu Han, Zhi Gao, Juan M. Vega and James A. Birchler built on a previous MU discovery about the creation of minichromosomes to demonstrate that genes could be stacked on the minichromosomes.

This has been sought for a long time in the plant world, and it should open many new avenues. If we can do this in plants, many advances could be done in agriculture that would not otherwise be possible, from improved crops to inexpensive pharmaceutical production to other applications in biotechnology, said Birchler, professor of biological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science.

A minichromosome is an extremely small version of a chromosome, the threadlike linear strand of DNA and associated proteins that carry genes and functions in the transmission of hereditary information. Whereas a chromosome is made of both centromeres and telomeres with much intervening DNA, a minichromosome contains only centromeres and telomeres, the end section of a chromosome, with little else. However, minichromosomes have the ability to accept the addition of new genes in subsequent experiments.

Birchler said there have been unsuccessful efforts to create artificial chromosomes in plants but this is the first time engineered minichromosomes have been made. Minichromosomes are able to function in many of the same ways as chromosomes but allow for genes to be stacked on them. Although other forms of genetic modification in plants
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Contact: Katherine Kostiuk
kostiukk@missouri.edu
573-882-3346
University of Missouri-Columbia
14-May-2007


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