Mum and dad's genes
Do you listen more to mum or dad? Each parent contributes a different version (allele) of every gene to their offspring. Usually both alleles are active in the offspring, but for a small subset of genes, called imprinted genes, an allele will only be switched on if it comes from either the mother or the father.
In mammals, imprinted genes regulate nutrients to the unborn young and are also involved in development of complex organs such as the brain.
Plants also have imprinted genes. In a world first, CSIRO’s Dr Ming Luo and his team have identified over one hundred imprinted genes in rice endosperm (the starchy part of the seed that we eat). The group is now investigating the role these genes may play in controlling endosperm development and cereal seed size, which may ultimately affect yield.
Researchers use rice as a model for other cereals, like barley and wheat as the rice genome has been sequenced. Dr Ming Luo’s future research will investigate how imprinting is established in cereal seeds.
An important question is whether imprinted genes in rice are also imprinted in other cereals and if they have the same function in rice, barley and wheat. Should this be the case this information will contribute to breeding strategies for improved cereal yield.
This study has been supported by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, the Chinese Academy of Science Initiative and an Acorn grant from the CSIRO Transformational Biology Platform.