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Gene expression profiling: opening the black box of plant ecosystem responses to global change


Andrew Leakey, tel. +1 217 244 0302, fax +1 217 244 2057, e-mail:


The use of genomic techniques to address ecological questions is emerging as the field of genomic ecology. Experimentation under environmentally realistic conditions to investigate the molecular response of plants to meaningful changes in growth conditions and ecological interactions is the defining feature of genomic ecology. Because the impact of global change factors on plant performance are mediated by direct effects at the molecular, biochemical, and physiological scales, gene expression analysis promises important advances in understanding factors that have previously been consigned to the ‘black box’ of unknown mechanism. Various tools and approaches are available for assessing gene expression in model and nonmodel species as part of global change biology studies. Each approach has its own unique advantages and constraints. A first generation of genomic ecology studies in managed ecosystems and mesocosms have provided a testbed for the approach and have begun to reveal how the experimental design and data analysis of gene expression studies can be tailored for use in an ecological context.