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Michigan State University plant scientists have identified two new genes and two new enzymes in tomato plants
Based on years of research, scientists thought that plants always used a specific compound, geranyl diphosphate, to make monoterpenes.
MSU biochemistry and molecular biology scientists Anthony Schilmiller and Rob Last were part of a research team that has found that tomato plants use a different compound, neryl diphosphate, as the substrate for making monoterpenes. The difference is subtle, but the discovery will change the way terpene (compounds that are responsible for the taste and smell of many plants) research is done.
The two newly identified genes, neryl diphosphate synthase 1 (NDPS1) and phellandrene synthase 1 (PHS1), cause the tomato plant to make the new enzymes that produce the monoterpenes.
As the team was sequencing the DNA of tomato trichomes, Schilmiller and Eran Pichersky, of the University of Michigan, noticed that there were many sequences from genes that weren't supposed to be involved in monoterpene production. Because the sequences were found so frequently, they hypothesized the genes must be making high levels of compounds in the trichome.
Terpenes are the largest class of molecules made by plants – tens of thousands of different terpenes have been identified. Some of the known functions of terpenes include attracting pollinators, repelling pests and protecting the plant from diseases, as well as giving many plants their smell and taste. The aroma of many leaf spices, such as mint and basil, come from terpenes.
The research is published in the May 25 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
by R. T.
01 june 2009, Technical Area > Science News