Biotech Updates

Scientists Discover Genes' Battle Over Sex Determination

January 14, 2011

Researchers from the University of Western Australia discovered a battle that has been happening since over a million years ago between the plant nucleus and the mitochodria for sex determination of plants.

Mitochondrion, the organelle responsible for energy production, has been believed to have descended from a bacterium that entered into a cell, billions of years ago. The organelle contains genes of its own that code for proteins that can transform a hermaphrodite plant into a female by blocking the development of male plant parts.

However, plant's defense mechanism alters this occurence. Restorer to fertility (Rf) genes code for proteins that block the genes from the mitochondrion through binding with the RNA they produce.

Research leader Professor Ian Small said that: "Our analysis of the evolution of Rf genes not only strongly supports their role in sex determination, it also gives us clues as to exactly how they work. The ability to silence destructive products in the cell has obvious possibilities in agricultural science and in medicine. The potential to control the sex of a plant is also important in commercial crop breeding."

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