Ferritin gene expression has been demonstrated in a variety of plants including maize, Arabidopsis, cowpeas, soybeans, beans and peas. Most available evidence shows that the mature protein is located in plastids and its production is under gene transcriptional control. In maize, two different ferritin genes have been identified; they were found to express protein under different physiological conditions. Only single gene products have been found until now in the other plants, with the exception of cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata). Our previous work with cowpeas [Wicks and Entsch (1993) Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 192, 813–819] showed the existence of a family of at least three ferritin genes, each coding for a protein subunit with a unique amino acid sequence. Here we report the discovery of a fourth active gene in cowpeas and present the full cDNA sequences for two of the four known members of the cowpea gene family. We also provide preliminary evidence for a family of ferritin genes in soybeans (Glycine max) related to that in cowpeas. We conclude that a family of genes is probably present in all higher plants. We have used quantitative reverse transcriptase-mediated PCR to show that each of the four members of the cowpea ferritin gene family expresses mRNA in leaves and roots under normal growth with a complete nutrient supply. The results clearly show a marked differential pattern of mRNA levels formed during development from the four genes. We conclude that the composition of plant ferritin molecules from plant leaf extracts is probably a complex mixture of subunits, which might be different in roots and in leaves.

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Author notes

The nucleotide sequence data reported will appear in DDBJ, EMBL and GenBank Nucleotide Sequence Databases under the accession numbers AF052057, AF052058, AF052512, AF052513 and AF052511.