Iowa State University and USDA Agricultural Research Service researchers Pingsha Hu and Roger Wise combined cloning with expression analysis to hypothesize a new mechanism for extensive gene expansion in cereal crops. Barley microarray analysis indicates that individual members take on new functions after their expansion. The research shows how cereal crops adapt to harsh environmental conditions and will allow for the development of crops with advantageous traits, such as disease resistance.
Receptor-like kinases (RLKs) have diverse roles in plant cells such as hormone signaling, meristem development, cell differentiation, pollen recognition, and pathogen defense. There are several hundred RLK family members in the model plants Arabidopsis and rice, which is far greater than in animals. In this newly discovered case in barley, Hu and Wise focused on an archetypal RLK gene family as a model for cereal crops and found that expansion of the RLK gene family occurred by duplication after the evolutionary separation of rice from barley and wheat.
The discovery was recently reported in the August 2008 journal Functional & Integrative Genomics.