Crop Biotech Update

Turning Sexually Reproducing Plant to Asexual Reproduction

March 12, 2010

Apomixis, the old elusive dream of molecular biologists to produce offsprings in sexually reproducing plants through asexual means, could be a reality in the discovery of Argonaute 9 protein. The research which will be available in the online version of Nature discussed the generation of viable seeds in the absence of a fusion of sperm and egg in Arabidopsis thaliana by the group in Mexico led by Jean-Philippe Vielle-Calzada and Cold Spring Harbor team led by Rob Martienssen. Shutting down the activity of Argonaute 9 protein led to the production of multiple gametes in Arabidopsis which carry the full genetic material of the plant instead of half.In the process, the plant was able to produce a clone of itself asexually.

A deeper study of the protein showed that Argonaute 9 binds small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). These small molecules are related to the activation of transposons or jumping genes which is closely associated with sexual reproduction. Thus, Argonaute 9 could inhibit asexual reproduction by silencing the transposons.

The paper can be viewed online at: doi: 10.1038/nature08828. See this story at http://www.cshl.edu/public/releases/10_mexico.html