Rothamsted is to lead one of four UK consortia awarded a total of £14m to explore the fundamental biology of living systems, with the project set to be the biggest study into protein regulation ever attempted.
Also involving University College London and the University of Cambridge, the BBSRC-funded project will use molecular biology techniques and big data analysis to decipher the rules governing the regulation of protein abundance in plants.
Protein regulation underpins many important agricultural traits with the two so-called ‘green revolutions’ - which resulted from the development of dwarf wheat and flood-tolerant rice varieties - being prime examples, says Rothamsted.
Project lead Professor Freddie Theodoulou says despite it being more than six decades since Francis Crick proposed his Central Dogma of molecular biology - which states that information flows from DNA to RNA to protein - scientists still do not fully understand how this process is controlled.
She says: “This project provides a fantastic opportunity to tackle the important question of how plant proteins are regulated.
“Plants are constantly producing, using and recycling proteins. Changes to the proteins in plant cells can have huge implications, affecting a cell’s size or role, and altering the plant’s nutritional value or response to environment changes.
“For cells to work efficiently, proteins need to be produced in the right place, at the right time and in the right amount, and removed when no longer needed. There are many levels at which this process is regulated and there are still many gaps in our knowledge.
“Our project seeks to use the model plant, arabidopsis thaliana, to answer fundamental questions about the control of protein expression, including which mechanisms are important, and how they interact in a complex multi-cellular organism.”
The team also aims to determine to what extent the protein content of a given cell, tissue or organ predicts observable traits, or phenotype, of the plant – which Rothamsted says will be of great interest to commercial plant breeders.