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To engineer better crops and develop new drugs to combat disease, scientists look at how the sensor-laden membranes surrounding cells interact with their environment. But remarkably little is known about how proteins interact with these protective structures. For the first time for any multicellular organism, Carnegie researchers have analyzed 3.4 million potential protein/membrane interactions and have found 65,000 unique relationships. Preliminary data are now available to the biological community at www.associomics.org/search.php.

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Scientists, including Plant Biology's Sue Rhee, have created a new computational model that can be used to predict gene function of uncharacterized plant genes with unprecedented speed and accuracy. The network, dubbed AraNet, has over 19,600 genes associated to each other by over 1 million links and can increase the discovery rate of new genes affiliated with a given trait tenfold. It is a huge boost to fundamental plant biology and agricultural research.
Director Emeritus of Carnegie’s Department of Plant Biology, Winslow Briggs, will be awarded the prestigious International Prize for Biology from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science at a ceremony in Tokyo November 30, held in the presence of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan. Briggs is being honored for his work on light sensing by plants.

Researchers at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Plant Biology have discovered a key missing link in the so-called signaling pathway for plant steroid hormones (brassinosteroids). Many important signaling pathways are relays of molecules that start at the cell surface and cascade to the nucleus to regulate genes. This discovery marks the first such pathway in plants for which all the steps of the relay have been identified. Since this pathway shares many similarities with pathways in humans, the discovery not only could lead to the genetic engineering of crops with higher yields, but also could be a key to understanding major human diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.

Surprisingly little is known about the interactions that proteins have with each other and the protective membrane that surrounds a cell. These membrane proteins regulate nutrients, sense environmental threats, and are the communications interface between and within cells. Now researchers at Plant Biology have cloned genes to produce membrane proteins that may initiate instructions for genes to turn on in the nucleus. They just donated 2010 of them to the Arabidopsis Biological Resource Center.

When glaciers advanced over much of the Earth’s surface during the last ice age, what kept the planet from freezing over entirely? This has been a puzzle to climate scientists because leading models have indicated that over the past 24 million years geological conditions should have caused carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to plummet, possibly leading to runaway “icehouse” conditions.  Now researchers writing in the July 2, 2009, Nature report on the missing piece of the puzzle – plants.

A tiny plant with a long name (Arabidopsis thaliana) helps researchers design new crops to help meet increasing demands for food, biofuels, industrial materials, and new medicines. The genes, proteins, and other traits of this plant reside in the Arabidopsis Information Resource (TAIR) database. TAIR just released a new version of the genome sequence, which includes an array of improvements and novel features that promise to accelerate this critical research.

Cellulose makes up plant cell walls, gives plants shape and form and is a target of renewable, plant-based biofuels research. But how it forms, and thus how it can be modified to design energy-rich crops, is not well understood. Now a study led by researchers at Plant Biology has discovered that the underlying protein network that provides the scaffolding for cell-wall structure is also the traffic cop for delivering critical growth-promoting molecules where needed.

The Carnegie Institution’s Department of Plant Biology is a major participant in a newly-funded Department of Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) at Stanford University. The new EFRC, called the Center on Nanostructuring for Efficient Energy Conversion, will conduct basic research on developing new materials and technologies for meeting energy needs while reducing emission of greenhouse gases.