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The new gene-expression
technique has already shed fresh light on how alpine pennycress takes up heavy
metals from soil. Click the image for more information about
Lighting up Gene Expression in Plants
By Luis Pons
January 7, 2005
New light has been shed on where specific genes are expressed in
plants, thanks to a new research technique that illuminates where genes of
interest are functioning.
The method was developed at the Agricultural Research Service's
Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory in Ithaca, N.Y., by ARS plant
Kochian. He was assisted by Hendrick Küpper, a
postdoctoral fellow who is now at the
of Konstanz in Germany, and ARS support scientist Laura Ort Seib.
The technique, which uses the latest hybridization and microscopy
technologies, came about as part of the Ithaca lab's ongoing studies of plants
that absorb metals. It may eventually help with plant studies of all kinds,
according to Kochian.
The new method, which provides immediate digital and tabular data,
lets scientists work with large pieces of tissue from plants that have been
exposed to different environments. It eliminates many time-consuming steps
associated with current methods for pinpointing gene-expression location.
Knowing in which tissues or organs a gene and its product are
expressed greatly helps researchers understand that gene's role in plant
When a gene is expressed, an RNA sequence that's a mirror image of its
DNA sequence is created. With the new procedure, a similar mirror image is made
of the target gene's mRNA molecule. This image, called a synthetic nucleotide,
is tagged with a fluorescent compound. It then binds tightly with the original
mRNA molecule that's produced when the gene is expressed, illuminating cells
where the target gene is functioning.
The technique has already led the Ithaca researchers to significant
findings regarding alpine pennycress, Thlaspi caerulescens, an important
plant that tolerates and accumulates extremely high levels of zinc, cadmium and
about the research in the January issue of Agricultural Research
magazine, available online at:
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.