Standard textbooks of genetics and molecular biology pay scant attention to plas-tids, although the chloroplast is arguably the best-studied genetic compartment in eukaryotic cells. The past two decades have witnessed an enormous progress in our understanding of plastid biogenesis, genome structure and function, gene expression and its regulation as well as plastid-nuclear interaction and communication pathways. In addition, research on plastids has benefited enormously from the development and continuous refinement of transgenic technologies. The possibility to directly alter the genetic information of the plastid has facilitated the study of virtually all aspects of plastid biology in vivo and, moreover, has paved the way to diverse applications of transgenic plastids in biotechnology.
It was with this in mind that we approached the writing of the present volume of Topics in Current Genetics entitled Cell and Molecular Biology of Plastids. The book begins with a chapter on plastid biogenesis, differentiation and division written by Kevin Pyke. The following chapter (contributed by Ralph Bock) covers plastid genome structure and function as well as the inheritance of plastids and their genetic material. Anil Day and Panagiotis Madesis portray the processes and mechanisms involved in both maintenance and structural dynamics of plastid genomes: recombination, DNA replication, and repair. The following four chapters cover the various steps of gene expression in plastids, their molecular components, and how they are regulated: transcription (by Karsten Liere and Thomas Börner), RNA stability and degradation (by David Stern and colleagues), the diverse RNA processing mechanisms operating in plastids, including intron splicing and RNA editing (by Christian Schmitz-Linneweber and Alice Barkan), and protein biosynthesis (by Hadas Peled-Zehavi and Avihai Danon). Three chapters are dedicated to key posttranslational processes in plastid biogenesis and function: protein processing and the assembly of multiprotein complexes (by Eva-Mari Aro and colleagues), protein stability and degradation (by Zach Adam), and protein import and sorting (by Birgit Agne and Felix Kessler). Many of these processes are described using chloroplasts and the photosynthetic apparatus as model system, not least because research on non-green plastid types is still far less advanced.
The chapter written by Bianca Naumann and Michael Hippler provides on overview of plastid proteomics research. It covers both methodological and functional aspects and demonstrates how a highly complex proteome can be dissected by splitting it up into analyzable subproteomes. The multifarious communication pathways between plastids and the nucleo-cytosolic compartment of the plant cell are dealt with in the contribution by Thomas Pfannschmidt and colleagues. Our current knowledge about anterograde (nucleus-to-plastid) and retrograde (plastid-to-nucleus) signalling processes is summarized illustrating the great complexity of the regulatory mechanisms that have evolved to coordinate the activities of the prokaryotic-type genome in the plastid and the eukaryotic-type genome in the nu cleus of the plant cell. Last but not least, the chapter by Hans-Ulrich Koop and colleagues describes the state of the art in engineering plastid genomes of algae and higher plants and highlights selected applications of plastid transformation technology in basic research and plant biotechnology.
Cell and Molecular Biology of Plastids is written primarily for those working directly in the fields of plastid biology, organelle genetics and gene expression, photosynthesis research and biotechnology. The authors of the individual chapters have tried to discuss concepts and emphasize general principles that are accepted and proven. Inevitably, there is some overlap between the contributions, which, however, has been limited to the extent needed to ensure that the individual chapters can be read in isolation. Authors and editor hope that this volume will serve as a stepping-stone for graduate students becoming interested in organelle biology and new researchers entering the field.
In closing, I express my sincere thanks to the authors of each chapter - their thoroughness and commitment made this volume possible. I am also very grateful to the many colleagues who willingly acted as reviewers and to Springer Publishers and the editorial office of Topics in Current Genetics for their help in editing and formatting this book.
Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology, Am Muehlenberg 1, D-
14476 Potsdam-Golm, Germany
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