How plants prevent their genes from going haywire

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Washington, September 11 (ANI): A new study, by researchers at the Universite de Montreal in Canada, has found a key mechanism that enables plants to keep dangerous gene alterations in check to ensure their continued existence.

"We've discovered a new pathway that plants use to protect their genes against dangerous alterations that could also allow some useful mutations to occur," said Normand Brisson, a Universite de Montreal biochemistry professor who made his discovery with graduate students Alexandre Marechal and Jean-Sebastien Parent.

"Such mutations played an important role in the evolution of plants with high nutritional value, resistance to disease and harsh climate that are so important to modern agriculture," added Dr. Brisson.

"Our results open new research avenues for the study of similar mechanisms of gene repair in humans that might be important for human evolution, our responses to stress and the prevention of devastating diseases," he said.

All living things are constantly exposed to stressors that can provoke gene mutations, yet if uncorrected such mutations can have disastrous consequences such as the development of cancers in humans or cell resistance to cancer-fighting drugs.

Cells have evolved a battery of mechanisms to correct mutations, including recently discovered strategies that can also modify the number of copies of individual genes.

These corrective mechanisms have attracted a lot of scientific interest since they could play a key role in species evolution.

Dr Brisson suspected that a protein family he has studied for years, called the "Whirlies" might be important to protect against mutations in plant cells - specifically in the chloroplast - the engine of photosynthesis that allows plants to transform carbon dioxide into sugar and expel the oxygen we breathe.

Working with his students and Biochemistry Professor Franz Lang, they showed that Whirlies are key to preventing major rearrangements of genes that could result in the creation of multiple gene copies.

The discovery is important, since the number of copies of a gene must be kept scrupulously in balance with other genes so they can function correctly together.

Even though gene multiplication can be thought of as detrimental, such multiplication can be an important adaptation to stressors and so keeping such mutations in check must be balanced against creating mutations that may actually help living things survive in changing conditions. (ANI)

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