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Archive - Oct 23, 2019

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In Nine-Year Effort, Scientists Sequence Transcriptomes of Over 1,100 Plants, Illuminating 1 Billion Years of Evolution

Plants are evolutionary champions, dominating Earth's ecosystems for more than a billion years and making the planet habitable for countless other life forms, including us. Now, scientists have completed a nine-year genetic quest to shine a light on the long, complex history of land plants and green algae, revealing the plot twists and furious pace of the rise of this super group of organisms. The project, known as the “One Thousand Plant Transcriptomes Initiative” (1KP), brought together nearly 200 plant biologists to sequence and analyze genes from more than 1,100 plant species spanning the green tree of life. A summary of the team’s findings was published online on October 23, 2019 in Nature. The open-access article is tited “One Thousand Plant Transcriptomes and the Phylogenomics of Green Plants.” "In the tree of life, everything is interrelated," said Gane Ka-Shu Wong, PhD, lead investigator of 1KP and Professor in the University of Alberta's Department of Biological Sciences. "And if we want to understand how the tree of life works, we need to examine the relationships between species. That's where genetic sequencing comes in." Much of plant research has focused on crops and a few model species, obscuring the evolutionary backstory of a clade that is nearly half a million species strong. To get a bird's-eye view of plant evolution, the 1KP team sequenced transcriptomes - the set of genes that is actively expressed to produce proteins - to illuminate the genetic underpinnings of green algae, mosses, ferns, conifers, flowering plants, and all other lineages of green plants.

MIT Scientists Build Proteins That Avoid Crosstalk with Existing Molecules; Engineered Signaling Pathways Could Offer New Strategy for Building Synthetic Biology Circuits; Approach Could Improve CAR-T Cell Therapy for Cancer, Among Other Applications

Inside a living cell, many important messages are communicated via interactions between proteins. For these signals to be accurately relayed, each protein must interact only with its specific partner, avoiding unwanted crosstalk with any similar proteins. A new MIT study sheds light on how cells are able to prevent crosstalk between these proteins, and also shows that there remains a huge number of possible protein interactions that cells have not used for signaling. This means that synthetic biologists could generate new pairs of proteins that can act as artificial circuits for applications such as diagnosing disease, without interfering with cells’ existing signaling pathways. “Using our high-throughput approach, you can generate many orthogonal versions of a particular interaction, allowing you to see how many different insulated versions of that protein complex can be built,” says Conor McClune, an MIT graduate student and the lead author of the study. In the new paper, which was published online on October 23, 2019 in Nature (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1639-8), the researchers produced novel pairs of signaling proteins and demonstrated how they can be used to link new signals to new outputs by engineering E. coli cells that produce yellow fluorescence after encountering a specific plant hormone. The Nature article is titled “Engineering Orthogonal Signalling Pathways Reveals the Sparse Occupancy Of Sequence Space.” Michael Laub (photo), PhD, an MIT Professor of Biology, is the senior author of the study. Other authors are recent MIT graduate Aurora Alvarez-Buylla and Christopher Voigt, PhD, the Daniel I.C. Wang Professor of Advanced Biotechnology.