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Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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Tippling Gene Turns on Plants
28 January 1998 6:00 pm
Scientists have found a way to switch on a plant's genes by letting it soak up some booze. The intoxicating approach, described in next month's Nature Biotechnology, might eventually be used to control production of pest-resistant proteins or to tell plants when to flower.
Ethanol turns on a fungal gene, called AlcR, that tells other genes to make proteins. A team led by Brian Tomsett of the University of Liverpool in the U.K. infected tobacco plants with a virus engineered to carry the AlcR gene. Infected plant cells incorporated the viral DNA, including AlcR, into their own genetic machinery. The researchers rigged it so that the plant cells also incorporated a second gene that AlcR could control--one that produces invertase, a protein poisonous to plants.
The plants grew normally until the researchers added a nip of ethanol--1 part per thousand--to their water. Within 4 days, invertase levels in the plants shot up 15 times, and younger leaves thickened, curled, and yellowed. Adding plain water helped the plants detox--within 8 days, they had started to grow normally again. Tomsett's team also got the genetic switch to work in tomatoes, rapeseed, and the well-researched Arabidopsis thaliana.
The AlcR switch "clearly has commercial potential," says Tomsett. But other plant geneticists aren't ready to pop the champagne yet. "I'm a little bit dubious as to how well it will work in the field," says Christiane Gatz of the University of Göttingen in Germany. For one, she notes, it may be tricky to deliver precise doses of ethanol, which is toxic to plants at high levels.