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Scientists develop method to find genetic basis for plant variation

enetic basis of natural variation.

The initial difficulty is that to date only one variety of Arabidopsis has had its genetic material sequenced. But this particular variety, called Col-0 (so named because it is indigenous to Colombia), is not genetically identical to all other populations of Arabidopsis, Salt said.

For an answer, Salt used DNA microarrays to detect genes that varied in the two coastal populations. He cross-referenced this information with the database to seek out genetic differences that may play a role in regulating sodium levels.

Salt found that the costal populations had a different version of the gene called AtHKT1, which previous studies have shown helps govern the process in which sodium is prevented from rising out of the plant's roots.

Further experiments showed that AtHKT1 is genetically associated with sodium tolerance, which could help explain why the gene is found in coastal populations where there may be elevated salt levels.

"It could just be a coincidence that these coastal populations, where soils naturally have higher sodium concentrations, have a defective version of a gene involved in sodium regulation," Salt said, "But it also may not be. We are currently in the process of answering the original question of why. This methodology has gotten us very close to an explanation."

Sodium chloride, or table salt, is generally toxic to plants at significantly high concentrations. Salt said this study will help his team better understand the way in which plants process sodium.

Postdoctoral researchers Ana Rus and Ivan Baxter co-authored the paper. Salt is currently investigating the potential origin of the defective AtHKT1 gene.

He continues to add to his database, compiling thousands of samples a week. His database records what Arabidopsis genes have been "knocked out," or mutated, and lists the corresponding levels of 17 different elements in each plant.
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Contact: David Salt
dsalt@purdue.edu
765-496-2112
Purdue University
21-Dec-2006


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