Alternative splicing (AS) has recently emerged as one of the most important mechanisms for generating proteome diversity and regulating gene expression. It is becoming clear that the majority of human genes encode transcripts that undergo AS, greatly enhancing the coding potential of the genome. Very few examples of alternatively spliced transcripts have been reported in plants and still fewer are known to generate functionally distinct proteins. However, the recent explosive growth of available expressed sequence data and its alignment with genomic sequences indicates that AS plays a far more important role in plants than previously thought, and further work is necessary to uncover the significance and regulation of this process.
The unique developmental plasticity and stress tolerance developed by plants as a result of their sessile growth habit suggests that they offer exceptional opportunities to reveal AS mechanisms, which are likely to play a key role in the adaptation of plants to changes in their environment. This project will investigate both the biological relevance of AS in plant development and stress responses and the regulatory mechanisms of plant pre-mRNA splicing about which virtually nothing is known.
The functional significance of different splice variants of specific development- and stress-associated genes will be examined using reverse genetic approaches in Arabidopsis thaliana. Moreover, the function of individual serine/arginine-rich (SR) proteins, which are established key players in mammalian AS, and their stress-specific expression patterns will be analysed. A computational approach will also be employed to identify plant splicing enhancercis-acting elements (ESEs) recognized by SR proteins. This work deals with an exciting area of plant biology and will accelerate understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying plant adaptation to environmental stress, opening new avenues for the use of biotechnology to increase plant productivity.
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