Gene and protein names and symbols

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Published on: September 20, 2012

Scientific writing is a minefield of possible mistakes and embarrassments. Even after you’ve managed the nearly impossible task of writing, in the passive voice and past tense, twenty pages of science which your PI (if you’re a student or post-doc) and collaborators have OK’d after multiple rounds of staring at red, green, and blue track-changes, there is still the awful task of checking the formatting of species, genera, gene and protein names. Unless one of the authors is a journal editor, in which case you may have got to that stage much earlier. And although you get used to that uninspiring writing style early on, the protocol for referring to genes and proteins can feel like a constant battle, as it differs between species, and sometimes between journals too.

Well, GARNet can’t help much with the actual writing of your papers or thesis. If you want some help or inspiration with that, try this article on scientific writing on ScienceCareers which is both helpful and funny, and these exercises. We have put this list of plant species and generally accepted ways of writing gene and protein names and symbols however – enjoy!

Species Gene Protein Naming conventions Source
Brassica CAPITAL ITALIC CAPITAL Literature search *
Maize lowercase italic lowercase Maize gdb Maize gdb
Medicago First Letter Capitalised Italic First Letter Capitalised VandenBosch and Frugoli 2001 Literature search **
Tomato CAPITAL ITALIC CAPITAL TGRC Literature search *
Tobacco CAPITAL ITALIC CAPITAL Literature search *
Rice According to author guidelines at Plant Cell, and a literature search, there are apparently no set conventions for rice nomenclature.
Wheat First Letter Capitalised Italic First Letter Capitalised Catalogue of gene symbols for wheat Literature search

General rules:

– When referring to a mutant allele or mutant plant line, it is normal to use all lower case letters.
– Always italicize gene names, never protein names.
– If the abbreviation for the gene is an acronym, it is often capitalized in maize, Medicago, and wheat.


* According to the Plant Cell guidelines, gene and protein names for these species should be in sentence case. However all the recent papers I searched for this piece use capitalized gene and protein names.

** The VandenBosch paper recommends Arabidopsis formatting for Medicago gene and protein names, but most papers do not follow this.

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