New genetic discovery could regulate plant growth
Sometimes, research yields unexpected results. At Rutgers University–Camden, a group working together to decipher the genetic basis of cell shapes in plants made a remarkable discovery: a new gene.
The gene, named GIGANTUS1 (or GTS1 for short), is a member of a protein family that controls seed germination, growth, and biomass accumulation in plants. Essentially, it helps plants regulate growth.
“Plants must tightly regulate their cellular functions to grow and cope with constantly changing environmental conditions, but exactly how this occurs is largely unknown,” says Simeon Kotchoni, an assistant professor of biology at Rutgers–Camden.
To address the question, a group of students in Rutgers–Camden’s Computational Biology Summer Program analyzed thousands of genes governing cell shape patterning and growth in a model plant known as Arabidopsis thaliana, which shares traits with a large number of other plant species. The students came across the GTS1 gene during their work last summer and their findings were published in January in the journal BMC Plant Biology.
“It’s amazing to be part of such an exciting discovery,” says Lyla Jno Baptiste, a senior Rutgers–Camden biology major from North Brunswick. “Doing research like this can be life changing. It proves that research isn’t just some abstract thing. It can have real significance.”
The breakthrough discovery is important because it could help engineer important crops like corn and rice.
“It could reduce the amount of time needed for crop growth cycles in the plants we depend on for food,” Jno Baptiste says. “We could also use this discovery to create sustainable energy. If we can increase plant biomass production, then we can increase biofuel production and reduce our dependence on conventional fuel sources like oil, which in turn reduces their negative effects on the environment.”
Jno Baptiste was one of three students to work on the research project last summer. The team also included Kelle-Shae Bryson (Westampton/Burlington County College) and Sarah Kamal (Sewell/Camden County College). All three students were among 10 undergraduates who participated in Rutgers–Camden’s Computational Biology Summer Program last June through August. The 10-week study is funded by the National Science Foundation and falls under its Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.
Four different research projects fusing the biological sciences, mathematics, computer science, chemistry, and physics were performed during the summer program, which is open to undergraduates from all over the United States.