Seasoned cells: Researchers at the University of Leicester in England have discovered a new way to regulate plant development. R. Paul Jarvis and his team screened thale-cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) plants, model organisms in the mustard family, for genes affecting chloroplasts, the structures within plant cells where photosynthesis occurs.
A healthy chloroplast (middle) is made up of thousands of proteins, one of which acts to sort the others; when chloroplasts lack this guide, they become small and underdeveloped (right). In the November 2, 2012, Science, however, the scientists identified the SP1 gene, which, when altered, can counteract the loss of this missing sorting factor (left). Jarvis says this gene is important in controlling plant development, particularly when chloroplasts “undergo major changes—for example, during fruit ripening.” He and his group are currently testing this finding in tomatoes, and, if successful, they will begin to explore more carefully how it might be used to benefit farmers and consumers, Jarvis says.