NCSU Study Finds Key Molecular Mechanism Regulating Plant Translational Activity

— Written By

For Immediate Release

October 22, 2015

Dr. Jose Alonso | 919.515.5729

Dr. Anna Stepanova | 919.515.5739

Mick Kulikowski | 919.515.8387

Plants can’t get up and run away when they’re being attacked by insects or harsh weather conditions. So they need mechanisms to rapidly respond to a stressful event – being eaten by a bug, for example – and then quickly transition back to “normal” conditions when the stress level subsides.

In a paper published in the journal Cell, North Carolina State University researchers show how plants handle – at the molecular level – the release of ethylene, an important gaseous stress hormone that, among other functions, regulates plant growth and stimulates the fruit ripening process. The findings could pave the way to new techniques to engineer plants to produce better crops or to turn off certain genes.

In the paper, plant geneticists Anna Stepanova and Jose Alonso show that ethylene triggers a process that begins, but doesn’t complete, one of the cell’s most basic functions – gene expression.

At issue are the plant cell’s transcription and translation processes, in which genetic instructions encoded in DNA are transcribed into messenger RNAs, which are then translated into amino acids to create proteins that carry out specific functions.

The researchers show that, when ethylene is perceived, transcription of certain genes that function as circuit breakers of ethylene signaling occurs, but protein production becomes restricted until ethylene is removed.

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