Once dismissed as 'junk DNA' that served no purpose, a family of 'jumping genes' found in tomatoes has the potential to accelerate crop breeding for traits such as improved drought resistance.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge's Sainsbury Laboratory (SLCU) and Department of Plant Sciences have discovered that drought stress triggers the activity of a family of jumping genes (Rider retrotransposons) previously known to contribute to fruit shape and color in tomatoes. Their characterization of Rider, published today in the journal PLOS Genetics, revealed that the Rider family is also present and potentially active in other crops, highlighting its potential as a source of new trait variations that could help plants better cope with more extreme conditions driven by our changing climate.
"Transposons carry huge potential for crop improvement. They are powerful drivers of trait diversity, and while we have been harnessing these traits to improve our crops for generations, we are now starting to understand the molecular mechanisms involved," said Dr Matthias Benoit, the paper's first author, formerly at SLCU.
(Source: Agriculture and Food News, ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com)