A team of scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National
Laboratory (ORNL) has discovered the gene that controls an important
symbiotic relationship between plants and
fungi, and successfully facilitated the symbiosis in a plant that typically
The discovery came after 10 years of research at ORNL and partner
institutions exploring ways to improve bioenergy feedstock crops such as
Populus, or poplar tree. The scientists looked at the symbiosis formed by
certain species of Populus and the fungus Laccaria bicolor. They used
supercomputing resources and genome sequences to narrow down the search to a
receptor protein, PtLecRLK1. Once they had identified the likely candidate
gene, the researchers worked to validate their findings. They inoculated an
engineered version of Arabidopsis that expresses PtLecRLK1 with the fungus
which completely enveloped the plant's root tips, forming a fungal sheath
indicative of symbiote formation.
According to Wellington Muchero, ORNL quantitative geneticist, they have
converted a non-host into a host of this symbiont. Their success at making
Arabidopsis interact with the fungus can now be used to perform similar
studies on other biofuel crops such as switchgrass, or food crops like corn.
He added that their findings have opened up opportunities in diverse plant
systems while needing just one gene.