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King University Professor Dr. Han Chuan Ong’s Collaborative Molecular Biology Research On Gene Movements Published

BRISTOL, Tenn., September 11, 2017 – Han Chuan Ong, Ph.D., dean of King University’s College of Arts & Sciences, has co-authored a research article in the Journal of Molecular Biology and Evolution published by Oxford University Press in this month’s issue. The collaborative research involved scientists from Colorado State University, the University of Texas at Austin, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and Indiana University.

Dr. Ong’s research paper, “Mitochondrial Retroprocessing Promoted Functional Transfers of rpl5 to the Nucleus in Grasses,” focuses on plant mitochondria. “All plants have mitochondria, the energy-producing compartment in the cell,” said Ong. “We are focusing on mitochondria in grasses and how they interact with the nucleus; both are integral to the proper function of the cell.”

The group’s mitochondria research is concentrated on the entire grass family. “The grass family has some of the most important plants in the world, such as rice, wheat, barley, rye, sorghum, bamboo, and corn,” Ong said. “They are closely related and have been cultivated for thousands of years. Grass cultivation is a big-money industry for food and often for ornamentation – like the beautiful lawns on golf courses and public spaces.”

The research investigates one particular piece of DNA called rpl5, or Ribosomal Protein L5, that is being exchanged between the mitochondria and the nucleus. “Until the 1980s, people believed DNA was set and could not change location; however, discoveries in recent years have revealed that DNAs do move: between cellular compartments and, rarely, among organisms. This movement is fraught with problems, which can sometimes lead to catastrophic results like crop sterility, not unlike the Texas male sterility in corn. By understanding how DNAs move within a cell and gain new functions, we might be able to better understand how to avoid or reverse certain problems. In this case, we report on the rpl5 gene that has undergone repeated shuttling from the mitochondria to the nucleus and hypothesize on why it behaved this way,” added Ong.

“It is my hope that King’s participation in top-level research like this may one day contribute to advancing science and solving problems,” said Ong. “I’m grateful to my scientific collaborators for their efforts and to King University for the support. This was truly a global effort.”

To view the research paper, visit https://academic.oup.com/mbe/article-abstract/34/9/2340/3852550/Mitochondrial-Retroprocessing-Promoted-Functional?redirectedFrom=fulltext or contact Dr. Han Chuan Ong at 423.652.6007 or hanchuanong@king.edu for more information.

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