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UK researchers discover new gene silencing pathway
Kentucky Ag Connection - 09/28/2023

Researchers at the University of Kentucky Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment have discovered a new gene-silencing pathway in plants. This finding could have significant implications for genetic engineering and agriculture.

Gene silencing is a process by which plants turn off the expression of certain genes. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as protecting the plant from harmful viruses or bacteria. Researchers have been studying gene silencing for many years, but there is still much to learn about how it works.

The new gene-silencing pathway discovered by the UK researchers is different from any other pathway that has been identified before. It is also unique in that it affects transgenes, which are genes that have been artificially inserted into a plant's genome. Transgenes are often used to improve crop yields or resistance to pests and diseases.

The researchers made their discovery by studying the Arabidopsis thaliana plant, a common model organism. They found that transgenes that encode proteins with no specific cellular localization were silenced in sperm cells. This silencing occurred even in plants that had been genetically altered to disable known gene-silencing pathways.

"What we found is a new gene silencing pathway," said Tomo Kawashima, UK Department of Plant and Soil Science associate professor. "We mutated the genes responsible for the previously characterized known gene-silencing pathway to check whether our newly identified gene silencing still occurs and indeed it still happens. This is significant as we concluded that this is the new gene silencing pathway different from the rest."

Kawashima said that this discovery could have important implications for agriculture.

"Genetic engineering relies on the expression of transgenes, and these transgenes often get silenced, which we do not fully understand," he said. "Therefore, our discovery will pave the way for solving transgene silencing and thus more efficient genetic engineering for sustainable agriculture."

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