New research discovers 4-stranded DNA-binding protein conserved in plants and animals

March 25, 2015 by Kathleen Haughney, Florida State University
New research discovers 4-stranded DNA-binding protein conserved in plants and animals

When it comes to plants and animals, sometimes the two are more alike than you'd think.

That's precisely the point of a new paper by a team of Florida State University researchers who see their as a possible path to future advancements in agriculture and other genetics-friendly fields of study.

Biological Science Assistant Professor Elizabeth Stroupe and Associate Professor Hank Bass, along with molecular biophysics graduate student Mykhailo Kopylov, write in a new Biochemistry paper that the same type of protein works in and animals to bind to peculiar DNA structures called G-quadruplexes, or G4 DNA for short.

And they hope this discovery will allow them to better understand how in plants work, including how plants are able to adapt to adverse situations such as drought or flooding.

"Animals, humans—they can just leave their environments if they encounter adverse situations," Kopylov said. "But, plants cannot run away if there is drought or flooding. They have to learn how to survive. So, hopefully this protein can show us how the genes work to let plants adapt and survive."

The technical name for that protein is nucleoside diphosphate kinase1 (ZmNDPK1), and it has scientists excited because of its many cellular functions, and the study of its G4 DNA-binding activity may lead to a wider understanding of plant gene regulation.

In humans, that protein regulates hundreds of genes, including ones related to the development of the heart and its health. So, scientists are looking to find what exactly it affects in plants.

"Anytime you find something that is the same in , it's really exciting," Stroupe said.

Specifically, ZmNDPK1 was shown to bind tightly to G4 DNA, the structurally unique 4-stranded DNA elements found in thousands of maize genes.

"We didn't originally set out looking for this," Bass said. "It really was a discovery we made along the way and shows the value of collaborative research.

Most people know of DNA as two connected strands arranged in a double helix. Those strands must also occasionally separate to activate or replicate genes. Exactly how specific DNA sequences can adopt transient non-duplex forms, such as G4s, represents an exciting new research area—trying to figure out how these may function as tiny molecular gene switches.

In humans, G4 DNA is present in genes that regulate cancer and cell division. A previously published paper, by Bass, Kopylov, Stroupe and their collaborators characterized these same structures as pervasive throughout the maize genome. Building on that study, the group defined the first known plant G4-binding protein, moving from plant genetics to biochemistry and structural biology.

"Now that we have evidence for the partnership in both animals and plants, we are in a unique position to compare the functional importance of G4 DNA as conserved genetic regulatory elements," Stroupe said.

Explore further: Scientists uncover four-stranded elements of maize DNA

More information: "The Maize (Zea mays L.) Nucleoside Diphosphate Kinase1 (ZmNDPK1) Gene Encodes a Human NM23-H2 Homologue That Binds and Stabilizes G-Quadruplex DNA" Biochemistry, 2015, 54 (9), pp 1743–1757 DOI: 10.1021/bi501284g

Related Stories

New functions for 'junk' DNA?

March 31, 2014

DNA is the molecule that encodes the genetic instructions enabling a cell to produce the thousands of proteins it typically needs. The linear sequence of the A, T, C, and G bases in what is called coding DNA determines the ...

Study on bacteria-invading virus yields new discoveries

January 10, 2014

Innovative work by two Florida State University scientists that shows the structural and DNA breakdown of a bacteria-invading virus is being featured on the cover of the February issue of the journal Virology.

Letting go of the (genetic) apron strings

March 20, 2015

A new study from Princeton University sheds light on the handing over of genetic control from mother to offspring early in development. Learning how organisms manage this transition could help researchers understand larger ...

Recommended for you

Researchers come face to face with huge great white shark

January 18, 2019

Two shark researchers who came face to face with what could be one of the largest great whites ever recorded are using their encounter as an opportunity to push for legislation that would protect sharks in Hawaii.

Why do Hydra end up with just a single head?

January 18, 2019

Often considered immortal, the freshwater Hydra can regenerate any part of its body, a trait discovered by the Geneva naturalist Abraham Trembley nearly 300 years ago. Any fragment of its body containing a few thousands cells ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.