A new study by researchers at Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) has uncovered a veritable treasure trove of genes used by plants to form symbiotic relationships with fungi, vastly increasing the knowledge of the genetic basis for this agriculturally valuable interaction. Most land plants obtain a large portion of their mineral nutrients through a symbiotic relationship with soil fungi called arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis. But, despite decades of research, many of the genes required to form this relationship remain elusive. Now, with the advent of widely available genome sequences, BTI researchers were able to compare 50 plant genomes to identify 138 genes shared exclusively by plants capable of AM symbiosis. The findings, which appear on January 18,2016, in the journal Nature Plants, may ultimately bring us closer to developing plants that thrive without added fertilizer. "Currently, our research field has identified only a handful of genes required exclusively for AM symbiosis and we know that there are huge gaps in our knowledge," said senior author Maria Harrison,Ph.D., the William H. Crocker Professor at BTI. "These 138 genes are a valuable resource and provide new insights into the ways that plant cells host their fungal symbionts." In the past, researchers have identified genes involved in AM symbiosis through time-consuming genetic screens that could take upwards of five years to complete. Having identified a few genes from the barrel medic plant (Medicago truncatula) through this approach, the researchers noted that several of these AM symbiosis genes are missing from another plant species that does not host the fungi. This realization inspired Nathan Pumplin, a former graduate student in the Harrison laboratory to initiate a genome comparison approach in the hope of identifying more genes that fit this pattern.
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