Research Report: Genes found that cause toxic accumulation in plants

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.

By Lynne Friedmannn

Biologists have identified a long sought after family of genes that controls how yeast and plants accumulate toxic heavy metals and arsenic inside their cells.

Heavy metal and arsenic contamination is a serious environmental problem that can cause cancer, dementia, and other health problems in humans. Targeting these genes, it might be possible to keep heavy metals from accumulating in the edible parts of plants, such as rice grains and fruits. This would improve food quality and safety in regions of the world where crops are grown in contaminated soil or irrigated with water containing toxic metals. Future work may enable scientists to engineer non-food plants capable of removing toxic metals from hazardous waste sites as a form of bioremediation.

The discovery was a collaborative effort involving biologists at UCSD, The Scripps Research Institute and three other institutions. Two separate scientific papers on the findings appear in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. News release

Toward a better stem cell environment

In nature, stem cells communicate with other cells and with the extracellular matrix through chemical, electrical, and mechanical cues. But mimicking those conditions in a three dimensional environment in the lab has proved challenging. Artificial environments for stem cells can provide two but not all three required cues. Until now.

UCSD bioengineers report creating an artificial environment that simultaneously provides the chemical, mechanical, and electrical cues necessary for stem cell growth and differentiation. Building better microenvironments is critical for realizing the promises of stem-cell-based regenerative medicine, including cartilage for joint repair, cardiac cells for damaged hearts, and healthy skeletal myoblasts for muscular dystrophy patients. The advance could also lead to better model systems for fundamental stem cell research.

The work appears in Advanced Functional Materials. News release

Fighting Huntington’s disease

A naturally occurring compound found in strawberries and other fruits and vegetables, slows the onset of motor problems and delays death in models of Huntington’s disease, according to researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. The compound (called fisetin) was shown to prevent cell death in a nerve cell line that expressed a mutant form of the Huntington’s protein. Without treatment, about 50 percent of these cells would have died within a few days. The discovery sets the stage for further investigations into fisetin’s neuroprotective properties in Huntington’s and other neurodegenerative conditions.

The study appears in Human Molecular Genetics. News release at

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  3. Researchers find evidence of ‘liberal gene’
  4. UCSD study reveals visual pattern preference may indicate autism
  5. UCSD's Vinetz to head malaria study

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Posted by Kathy Day on Nov 23, 2010. Filed under Columns, Health & Science, Research Report. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “Research Report: Genes found that cause toxic accumulation in plants”

  1. annarondac

    I wonder if this could also be applied to Alzheimer's patients, as there are similarities in the cause and research between Huntington and Alzheimer's. Just a thought.

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