August 18, 2019 | 81° F

Researchers discover new plant gene to control growth

Photo by Courtesy of Tico Bassie |

The newly discovered plant, Gigantus 1, contains a protein that helps influence crop yield.

A group of researchers at Rutgers-Camden announced in February the discovery of a new plant gene they called Gigantus 1, which influences yields from important food crops, such as rice and corn. 

The researchers found GTS1, a member of the WD-40 protein family, that controls seed germination, growth and biomass accumulation in plants. 

One of the researchers, Simeon Kotchoni, an assistant professor of biology at Rutgers-Camden, said that their lab has always been interested in biomass and yield. To observe the effects of each gene they used a procedure called reverse genetics. 

The basic procedure involves knocking out a gene and recording what happens to the plant afterward, Kotchoni said. 

Emma Gachomo, a co-author of the research, oversaw the procedure. She said that when the team disabled GTS1 for the first time, they realized within a week how significant the gene was. 

The gene is a negative regulator of growth, Gachomo said. Without the gene, the plants grow significantly bigger, flower earlier and have more seed yields. 

Because of this effect, they named the gene Gigantus 1, Kotchoni said.

They used the Arabidopsis thaliana plant because it shares traits with many other plants and the scientific community understands its genomic sequencing, or its DNA. 

“Scientists can devote several years to pinpointing the genes that contribute to growth in specific plants, but they can now apply the findings from our work, in which we used a model plant species, to various other plants,” Kotchoni said in an article.

This project took about a year and a half, said Gachomo. They had three undergraduate students who applied to Rutgers–Camden’s Computational Biology Summer Program, a program funded by the National Science Foundation. 

Kotchoni thought it was great that the students were exposed to the research happening right in their community and that they were excited about the research. 

The findings of this research have been published in the journal BMC Plant Biology in January, according to the article. 

Kotchoni said the research team is trying to get a patent from the University so the seed will be protected, and they can continue to conduct research without having to worry about others claiming their research.

The plan for the future is to disable GTS1 in crops like corn or rice and see the effects on the crop, Kotchoni said. If crops react the same way as arabidopsis did, farmers will easily be able to produce more crops. 

“It will be interesting to study the GTS1 gene function in agronomically important crops with the aim of improving crop yield and biomass accumulation,” Kotchoni said in the article.

Tiffany Zhu

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