Function and biotechnological potential of transcription factors in plants

Transcription factors (TFs) are regulatory proteins that have played a pivotal role in the evolution of eukaryotes and are believed to display great biotechnological potential. A main obstacle in the functional analysis of TFs, a required step towards any biotechnological application of these genes, is that they usually form part of large multigene families with closely related members that often show (partial) functional redundancy.

In this project, our goal is to perform the functional characterisation of transcription factors of the plant model Arabidopsis thaliana following strategies designed to overcome (alleviate) the problems of functional redundancy among TFs and to examine the biotechnological potential of selected TFs in crop species. The specific research activities of the project are:

  1. Preparation of a collection of transgenic lines each of which will express a single TF under the control of an inducible promoter. These lines will be phenotypically characterised in relation to a large number of developmental and stress-related traits.

  2. Microarray-based screening of a heavily EMS-mutagenised collection of Arabidopsis plants. Given the power of this screening it is expected that mutations even in partially redundant genes will be detected (as they will produce alterations in the expression of at least part of the target genes). Mutations affecting expression of relevant targets will be isolated by positional cloning.

  3. Determination of the DNA binding specificity of a subset of TFs following a microarray-based approach. Information on TF binding specificity, together with bioinformatics analysis of the transcriptome data, will help associating TFs to target genes relevant to a given biological process.

  4. The assessment of the biotechnological importance of TFs identified because of regulation of agronomical/economical relevant traits will be carried out by testing the effects of controlled over- expression or down-regulation of the ortholog TFs in crop species.

  5. Implementation of a bioinformatics infrastructure for data storage and analysis.
The project gravitates on core centres, which will generate the resources and perform the high- throughput activities. Around these, a confederation of smaller groups will operate on the biologically-focussed research of this project. We expect that success of our initiative will generate a standard for activities in other scientific communities, thereby contributing to the structuring of the Spanish scientific community.