Functional genome analysis of plants has entered the high-throughput stage. The complete genome information from key species such as Arabidopsis thaliana and rice is now available and will further boost the application of a range of new technologies to functional plant gene analysis. To broadly assign functions to unknown genes, different fast and multiparallel approaches are currently used and developed. These new technologies are based on known methods but are adapted and improved to accommodate for comprehensive, large-scale gene analysis, i.e. such techniques are novel in the sense that their design allows researchers to analyse many genes at the same time and at an unprecedented pace. Such methods allow analysis of the different constituents of the cell that help to deduce gene function, namely the transcripts, proteins and metabolites. Similarly the phenotypic variations of entire mutant collections can now be analysed in a much faster and more efficient way than before. The different methodologies have developed to form their own fields within the functional genomics technological platform and are termed transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics and phenomics. Gene function, however, cannot solely be inferred by using only one such approach. Rather, it is only by bringing together all the information collected by different functional genomic tools that one will be able to unequivocally assign functions to unknown plant genes. This review focuses on current technical developments and their impact on the field of plant functional genomics. The lower plant Physcomitrella is introduced as a new model system for gene function analysis, owing to its high rate of homologous recombination.
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