Wholesale or piecemeal? NSF-funded study seeks genetic insights

Wholesale or piecemeal? NSF-funded study seeks genetic insights
Pocket Science: Exploring the 'What,' 'So what' and 'Now what' of Husker research

.
Craig Chandler | University Communication

Welcome to Pocket Science: a glimpse at recent research from Husker scientists and engineers. For those who want to quickly learn the “What,” “So what” and “Now what” of Husker research.

What?
.

As segments of DNA, genes contain the blueprints for constructing proteins — the cellular machinery that carries out an array of life-sustaining tasks. In some cases, cells duplicate individual genes that help dictate the structure and function of a species’ body parts. In other cases, cells copy the entirety of an organism’s DNA — a whole-genome duplication.

So what?

With the support of a new National Science Foundation grant, Nebraska’s James Schnable and colleagues will try to confirm that certain genes get copied only through whole-genome duplication. If true, this could explain the relative scarcity of specialized body parts: floral organs in plants, for instance, or the variety of tooth architecture found in certain mammals and fish.

Understanding the links between whole-genome duplication and specialized evolution may also help researchers predict and engineer crops with multiple types of specialized leaves, Schnable said. One hypothetical: Engineering the upper leaves of a plant to contain fewer photosynthesis-driving chloroplasts would allow more light to reach the leaves farther down, where photosynthesis costs a plant less water.

Now what?

The team will begin sussing out the effects of whole-genome duplication by comparing sorghum with corn, the latter of which produces distinct flower heads for male vs. female reproduction.