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Unlocking Crop Diversity by Manipulating Plant Sex

19:00 EST 21 Feb 2017 | Meridian Institute

Plant geneticists at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, have discovered a key gene, HEI10, which influences genetic recombination - the process by which genes come together in new configurations during reproduction - in wild plant populations. The team found that adding extra copies of the gene resulted in stimulated recombination and greater levels of diversity in offspring. Such a finding, the authors say, could help plant breeders unlock crop variation, improve harvests and ensure food security in the future. Some crop species, such as wheat and maize, are limited in the number and distribution of recombination events, which can limit crop improvement. The newly discovered gene could help increase recombination events in these crops. "This was really unexpected and is the biggest effect on recombination we have found since beginning our research in Cambridge," said Dr. Henderson, one of the plant geneticists working on the research. "We are very excited that a discovery from our basic research program might provide a key to unlock plant diversity and accelerate crop breeding." The team’s work was published in the journal Genes and Development.

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