Updated on 5 March 2013
The study provides insights into how land plants evolved two complex generations
Singapore: New research has uncovered a mechanism that regulates the reproduction of plants, providing a possible tool for engineering higher yielding crops.
In a study published in Science, researchers from Monash University and collaborators in Japan and the US identified for the first time a particular gene that regulates the transition between stages of the life cycle in land plants.
Professor John Bowman of the Monash School of Biological Sciences said plants, in contrast to animals, take different forms in alternating generations - one with one set of genes and one with two sets. "In animals, the bodies we think of are our diploid bodies - where each cell has two sets of DNA. The haploid phase of our life cycle consists of only eggs if we are female and sperm if we are male. In contrast, plants have large complex bodies in both haploid and diploid generations," said Prof Bowman.
These two plant bodies often have such different characteristics that until the mid-1800s, when better microscopes allowed further research, they were sometimes thought to be separate species.
Prof Bowman and Dr Keiko Sakakibara, formerly of the Monash School of Biological Sciences and now at Hiroshima University, removed a gene, known as KNOX2 from moss. They found that this caused the diploid generation to develop as if it was a haploid, a phenomenon termed apospory. The equivalent mutations in humans would be if our entire bodies were transformed into either eggs or sperm.