7th Feb 2014

Scientists lead by GARNet Advisory Committee member John Doonan at the BBSRC strategically-funded The Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University have identified a protein that is essential for male fertility in plants that grow in high temperatures.

The Aberystwyth team identified a gene closely related to wheat ph1, the gene which allowed recombination between the genomes of wild species and domesticated wheat, in Arabidopsis thaliana, and showed that this gene controls chromosome pairing and recombination. Identifying this gene in Arabidopsis, the model plant, opens up the possibility of researching ph1's properties much more quickly than working on wheat, and of developing new ways to manipulate their activity during wheat breeding programmes.

This has the potential to accelerate the rate at which valuable traits can be transferred from wild species into domesticated bread wheat and produce significant impact, given the immediacy of climate change and the daunting challenges of food security.

Professor John Doonan, Director of the National Plant Phenomics Centre at IBERS said; "The protein could have a crucial role to play in plant breeding. Plant breeding depends on the mixing of genetic material from both parents. This mixing is known as recombination, which results in offspring taking on characteristics from both parents to form a new variety. Plant breeders would like to be able to manipulate the level of recombination to facilitate breeding characteristics into crops, particularly wheat and other cereals."

Bread wheat is a species that has arisen due to the crossing of three ancestral plants, and it therefore contains three genomes (the full complement of genetic material within an organism) that are very similar, and can potentially recombine with each other.

Understanding the mechanisms that prevent these three genomes mixing with one another while allowing recombination within parental genomes is very important for breeding new varieties of wheat. Breeders would like to be able to cross bread wheat with its wild relatives to introduce new characteristics.

The research paper is published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) and is funded by BBSRC and the European Union FP7 programme.

Tao Zheng, Candida Nibau, Dylan W. Phillips, Glyn Jenkins, Susan J. Armstrong, and John H. Doonan. CDKG1 protein kinase is essential for synapsis and male meiosis at high ambient temperature in Arabidopsis thaliana. PNAS 2014 10.1073/pnas.1318460111. The paper is available online


This article is adapted from this BBSRC Press Release