New University of Leicester study to improve crop plants

Posted by ap507 at Aug 14, 2015 10:20 AM |
Research will provide us with answers to one of evolution’s most important processes

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 14 August 2015

Dr James Higgins from the University of Leicester Department of Genetics has been awarded a New Investigator grant (£450,000) from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to investigate meiotic adaptation to whole genome duplication.

Whole genome duplication (or polyploidy) is common in the plant kingdom as it provides an opportunity for organisms to increase their genetic fitness.  In fact, humans have been subconsciously selecting plants with extra sets of chromosomes for thousands of years, such as wheat, sugar cane, cotton, coffee, strawberry, banana, oil seed rape and potato.

However, there are problems associated with polyploidy as doubled sets of chromosomes may be identical or very similar to each other and thus get tangled up during a particular stage of sexual reproduction (meiosis) causing infertility.

In many cases evolution has independently solved this problem, by innovating or selecting advantageous natural variation.  We are now in a position to unravel the mechanism of adaptation to polyploidy using state-of-the-art microscopy and de novo genome sequencing. Initially, model plant species will be investigated with the aim of transferring to crop plants.

Dr Higgins said: “I am extremely excited about the potential of this three-year project as it brings together innovations in genome sequencing as well as super-resolution microscopy. This research will provide us with answers to one of evolution’s most important processes and directly apply to improvement of crop plants.”

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