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Research identifies genes potentially responsible for resistance of sugarcane to pests, cold or drou



Research carried out at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) identified “orphan genes” – exclusive to a certain group of organisms – in a species of sugarcane, Saccharum spontaneum, known for its tolerance to biotic stresses, such as attack by pests and diseases caused by insects, nematodes, fungi and bacteria, and abiotic ones, such as cold tolerance, water deficit, high salinity and soil nutritional deficiency.

The article, published in Frontiers in Plant Science on June 30, assumed that some of these genes in this species could play a significant role in the face of stress.

Every living being has genes very similar to those present in the genomes of other organisms. Plants, for example, share similarities in genes involved in the process of photosynthesis. On the other hand, an organism also has genes that are not similar to those found in other species. This is the case of birds, which have some genes with no level of similarity with any other found in the genome of mammals. Recent research has shown that even organisms of very closely related species (of the same genus) can have genes that are not shared. Sugarcane aroused the interest of the group due to some peculiar characteristics. One would be the genome-doubling events that occurred in the past and that resulted in multiple copies of the same gene. There is scientific evidence that orphan genes can arise from copying a preexisting gene. The copy, over time, has its sequence modified as a result of mutations to the point where it bears almost no resemblance to the gene that originated it.

It would also be possible that orphan genes, also called taxonomically restricted genes, have arisen from the reorganization of regions of the genome that do not encode genes, a very common phenomenon in organisms with complex genomes, such as sugarcane. -of sugar.

“In the article, we identified genes in the sugarcane genome that are not similar to any found in other organisms. We believe that they may be responsible for specific characteristics or physiological patterns of the species”, says Cláudio Benício Cardoso-Silva, who developed the project during his postdoctoral work at the Center for Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering (CBMEG) at Unicamp, supported by FAPESP. “A relevant fact verified is that some increased or decreased their expression levels in sugarcane plants in response to different types of abiotic stresses, mainly cold”, explains Cardoso-Silva. “It could be an indication that they are being regulated as a result of these stresses”, adds the scientist, who, in his work, was guided by Anete Pereira de Souza, a professor at the Department of Plant Biology at the Institute of Biology at Unicamp.

With the results reported in the article, it is still not possible to say that the identified orphan genes make the plant more tolerant to stress. “But the fact that they are being regulated under stressful conditions raises an alert for the possibility of having an important role in these processes”, says the researcher.

The next step will be to verify how these genes behave in terms of expression in experiments with plants subjected to various stresses and compare them with those of plants not subjected to stresses. With the confirmation of the best candidate genes, the possibility of biotechnological application opens, with their insertion in plants of commercial interest. This would make it possible, in the future, to develop sugarcane varieties that are more tolerant of different types of environmental pressures.

“We put a spotlight on this possibility for anyone who wants to retrieve the data from the article and continue the research, or who works with gene transformation or editing, which is another area of ​​research, to choose one or two genes as candidates and carry out the validations”, says Cardoso-Silva, who continues to work with genomics at the Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense (UENF). “My current research focuses on an evolutionary context, the study of the expansion of gene families.” The researcher spent a year at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada, with a grant from FAPESP. “Today we have CRISPR [a technique for genetic editing], and this work offers those who work with biotechnology the selection of specific genes for tolerance to water deficit, high salinity, cold or excessive heat at a time when greater plant resilience is sought cultivated, with fewer inputs”, comments Souza

Source: Fapesp

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