International consortium to study plant fertility evolution

July 02, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] -- Mark Johnson, associate professor of biology, has joined a consortium of seven other researchers in four European countries to develop the fullest understanding yet of how fertilization evolved in flowering plants. The research, employing techniques such as comparative genomics and molecular biology, could ultimately help agronomists improve crop yields for a hungry world.

"Our project will deliver the first comprehensive view of the molecular evolution of plant sexual reproduction and will provide insights into the origins of fertilization in flowering plants," said group leader Jörg Becker at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência in Portugal. "This will be a crucial step in our quest to develop tools to manipulate plant reproduction in our favor and improve crop productivity."

Johnson said his lab will focus on the evolution of mechanisms underlying double fertilization, the process by which flowering plants not only fuse sperm and egg, but also where a second sperm fuses with a central cell that develops into much of the rest of the seed (including the "endosperm" that provides nutrition and protection for the embryo). In prior work, his lab has identified a key protein in the model plant Arabadopsis. With about $540,000 provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation Plant Genome Research Program as part of the total project's $2.9-million in funding, he will be able to learn whether that protein plays a similarly crucial role in crops like tomatoes. Johnson will hire a new postdoctoral scholar for that work.

"This project is particularly exciting because in recent years, the group of investigators involved has made a lot of progress toward understanding some of the molecules that are involved in flowering plant reproduction by focusing on Arabidopsis," Johnson said. "Our goal is to use comparative genomics approaches to fill in gaps in our understanding of how plant reproduction works and to define the aspects of the mechanisms we've discovered so far that are either ancient or new innovations."

Johnson's lab will also use genome editing techniques to learn whether the proteins he's studying are not only present across flowering plants, but also how they are important.

Overall, Johnson said, "These studies have the potential to yield new insights into how critical crop products like corn kernels and tomato fruits are produced."

Brown University

Related Evolution Articles from Brightsurf:

Seeing evolution happening before your eyes
Researchers from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg established an automated pipeline to create mutations in genomic enhancers that let them watch evolution unfold before their eyes.

A timeline on the evolution of reptiles
A statistical analysis of that vast database is helping scientists better understand the evolution of these cold-blooded vertebrates by contradicting a widely held theory that major transitions in evolution always happened in big, quick (geologically speaking) bursts, triggered by major environmental shifts.

Looking at evolution's genealogy from home
Evolution leaves its traces in particular in genomes. A team headed by Dr.

How boundaries become bridges in evolution
The mechanisms that make organisms locally fit and those responsible for change are distinct and occur sequentially in evolution.

Genome evolution goes digital
Dr. Alan Herbert from InsideOutBio describes ground-breaking research in a paper published online by Royal Society Open Science.

Paleontology: Experiments in evolution
A new find from Patagonia sheds light on the evolution of large predatory dinosaurs.

A window into evolution
The C4 cycle supercharges photosynthesis and evolved independently more than 62 times.

Is evolution predictable?
An international team of scientists working with Heliconius butterflies at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama was faced with a mystery: how do pairs of unrelated butterflies from Peru to Costa Rica evolve nearly the same wing-color patterns over and over again?

Predicting evolution
A new method of 're-barcoding' DNA allows scientists to track rapid evolution in yeast.

Insect evolution: Insect evolution
Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have shown that the incidence of midge and fly larvae in amber is far higher than previously thought.

Read More: Evolution News and Evolution Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to