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Almost all land plants employ an army of cellular editors who correct errors in their genetic information. Researchers at the University of Bonn have now transferred parts of this machinery into a bacterium. Their results confirm a controversial thesis on the functioning of this widespread mechanism. They have now been published in the journal Communications Biology of the Nature Publishing Group.
One might think that the genetic machinery of higher plants was invented by a bureaucrat who likes to pick the most complicated option: Much of the plants' genetic material contains small errors. The DNA in the power plants of the plant cells, the mitochondria, is particularly affected. The plant must correct these errors, otherwise its energy supply would collapse. And it does make these corrections, but in a very complicated way: It does not improve the DNA, i.e. the actual building instructions of the mitochondria. Instead, it corrects the copies made of these instructions. This is like printing an erroneous newsletter a thousand times and then correcting the misspelled word in each of these printouts.
Editors - Corrections - Specialists - Error - Plants
More than that: The editors who make these corrections are absolute specialists. They usually only recognize one specific error. Some plants therefore have 500 or more different proofreaders. "The DNA transcripts consist of RNA; we therefore call this mechanism RNA editing," explains Prof. Dr. Volker Knoop from the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Botany at the University of Bonn. "We are only just beginning to understand why it exists and how it functions in detail."
Knoop and his coworkers have at least come one step closer to answering the second question. For this purpose, they transported some editors from the moss Physcomitrella patens to the intestinal bacterium E. coli. "We wanted to find out whether they edit the bacterial RNA there," said Knoop's colleague Dr. Mareike Schallenberg-Rüdinger....
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