Knowledge Based Bio-Economy


Understanding gene recombination to increase crop diversity

Project acronym: Meiosys

Title of project: Systematic analysis of factors controlling meiotic recombination in higher plants

Research area: Agriculture & Forestry (Development of genetic systems for crop improvement through a systems biology approach)

Contract No: 222883

EU contribution: €4 999 000 000 EURO

Start date: January 2008

Duration: 60 months


Meiotic recombination is the natural process whereby genes are exchanged between chromosomes during cell division. It is one of the principal forces creating the genetic diversity that drives evolution, and is the fundamental instrument underlying most crop breeding programmes. A greater understanding of the control of recombination in crop plants would enable manipulation of this process to improve the speed and accuracy of plant breeding. This would be particularly useful for crop species like wheat, barley, oats and forage grasses (such as Lolium and Festuca) which all exhibit a non-random pattern of recombination relative to the gene distribution in their genomes whereby chiasmata (the point where genes cross over) appear to be preferentially targeted to the ends of the chromosomes.

Although meiotic recombination has underpinned plant breeding, generating new traits of agronomic, environmental and economic importance, there is still little understanding of the controlling mechanisms involved in this process. This project aims to combine approaches in genomics and systems biology to obtain a detailed understanding of the factors that control recombination. It will also provide a basis for the development of strategies to modify recombination in a variety of crop species.

Expected impact

This project is expected to give the EU a competitive edge in the efficient targeted delivery of desired outcomes in crop-improvement programmes, enabling domestication of new crops and leading to industrial innovation.

Expected results

The project expects to produce a set of protocols and tools that will increase knowledge of meiotic recombination in a model plant (Arabidopsis). This information will form the basis for understanding the factors moderating recombination in crops. It will elucidate the relationship between genes and protein networks that underpin meiotic recombination and its control. Meiotic protein complexes with a role in recombination and chromosome organisation will be obtained from Arabidopsis and Brassica using complementary affinity-based approaches enabling the protein complexes to be analyzed using mass spectrometry. This should result in a fully predictive and testable model of meiotic protein interactions. The role of novel meiotic proteins and their interactions with the components of the recombination machinery system should be obtained and further specific interactions confirmed using yeast hybrid analysis.

A number of mutants affecting recombination frequency should be identified by suppressor screening and functionally characterised. Determination of their interaction with the recombination machinery should contribute to a protein/protein interaction model.

The pattern of recombination hotspot distribution should establish its inter-relationship with chromosome organization, resulting in the construction of a comprehensive, systems-level model of the gene/protein networks that control the frequency and distribution of meiotic crossovers in plants. Information will also be gained concerning distribution of meiotic recombination hot spots in selected meiotic mutants using a pollen genotyping method. The effect of chromosome structure and organisation on recombination frequency and distribution will be elucidated using a range of chromosome deletion mutants and chromatin modification mutants.

Based on information derived from Arabidopsis, assessment of the crop species barley and brassica will result in lines exhibiting modified recombination produced through RNA interference or, where appropriate, identified among existing mutant stocks. The frequency and distribution of meiotic crossovers will be reported based on genetic analysis of progeny using single nucleotide polymorphism markers.

Website of


Coordinator: Susan Armstrong,

Organisation: The University of Birmingham, UK,



French National Institute for Agricultural Research, France,

National Research Council, Italy,

Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands,

National Centre for Scientific Research, France,

Scottish Research Institute, UK,

Complutense University of Madrid, Spain,

University of Vienna, Austria,