Researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) and the Center for Sustainable Resource Science, RIKEN found that the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana expresses thousands of transcripts between regular genes and jumping genes. The researchers report that the plant alters the expression of these hybrid genes in response to extreme temperatures or pathogens.
"Jumping genes," or transposons, are sections of the DNA that can copy themselves and jump between different parts of the genome. The study published in Nature Communications finds that these genes might help plants adapt to stressful, changing conditions. The researchers identified the transcripts using Direct RNA Sequencing that can read long RNA sequences. They then used a computational tool they developed, called ParasiTE, to classify the gene-transposon transcripts, based on the effect that the transposon had on the gene.
The research team then conducted a systematic study of how environmental stresses affect gene-transposon transcripts and found that a transposon called ONSEN, caused a change in expression of its associated gene, GER5, in response to excessive heat. Their other finding is a gene called RPP4, which produces a protein that helps Arabidopsis fight pathogen infections. The researchers found that suppressing the expression of the RPP4 gene affects the plant's resistance to pathogens.