New Techniques in Plant Chloroplast Division Hold Hope for Agriculture
Ground-breaking research at the
University of Leicester into the division of chloroplasts holds out hope of a
safer way of genetically modifying crops, with implications for agriculture
particularly in the developing world.
Using three plant types – Arabidopsis, tomato and rice – Dr Simon Geir Møller has been
working with colleagues in the University of Leicester Department of Biology and
at the Laboratory of Plant Molecular Biology at the Rockefeller University in
New York to examine how chloroplasts divide in plants.
Chloroplasts make plants green and are
important organelles of plant cells and vital for life on earth. Chloroplasts
perform numerous tasks such as photosynthesis (generation of oxygen) and the
production of amino acids and fatty acids. They have their own unique, and very
small, genome, and are derived from bacteria.
Comparing cell division in the E.coli bacterium with the way chloroplasts divide, the research team
has isolated a new component of the division machinery in
Arabidopsis, AtMinE1, and they have shown that this protein represents an
evolutionary conserved link between bacterial division and chloroplast division.
Dr Møller explained:
“People have tried for a long time to add genes to the chloroplast
genome and adapt the levels of proteins in them. You can engineer complex pathways in chloroplasts that you can’t
achieve in a cell nucleus.
“The main advantage is that
chloroplasts are not spread by pollen, so there is no environmental hazard in
plants genetically modified in this way. In
other words there wouldn’t be any cross-pollination or the development of
unwanted ‘superweeds’. The gene
basically dies with the plant.
“The problem is that so far this has
only been done in tobacco and once in the tomato plant.
Our research involves genetically controlled enlarging of the
chloroplasts, so that we can blast them more efficiently with DNA attached to
gold particles encoding valuable proteins followed by re-manipulation of the
The work was recently published in The Plant Journal, in a report entitled 'The topological specificity
factor AtMinE1 is essential for correct plastid division site placement in Arabidopsis',
by Dr Simon Geir Møller
and Jodi Maple of the University of Leicester Department of Biology and Nam-Hai
Chua of the Laboratory of Plant Molecular Biology, the Rockefeller University,
The research team is also working with
collaborators in the USA on putting vaccines into chloroplasts of plants so that
they can be eaten.
research in the laboratory of Dr Simon Geir Møller is funded by the
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, The Royal Society, The
John Oldacre Foundation, The Ambrose and Ann Appelbe Trust and
a HEROBC Innovation Fellowship funded by HEFCE.
TO EDITORS: Further
information is available from Dr Simon Geir Møller,
University of Leicester Department of Biology, telephone +44 (0)116 252
5302/3339, facsimile +44 (0)116 252 3330, email firstname.lastname@example.org
analysis of chloroplasts with elevated levels of AtMinE1 showing loss of normal
division characteristics. Normal chloroplast division is shown for comparison
(Wild type inset).
This document has been approved by the head of department or section.