Genetic Engineering Tools Allow for More Easily Modified Plants

The researchers have made their new genetic toolset publicly available.
Chris Young

You might not know it, but plants have very large genomes. A rare flower from Japan, for example, has a genome that is 50 times the size of a human's.

These huge genomes and the large genes associated with them can make it difficult for plant scientists to make genetic changes to plants that would provide resistance to diseases.

In order to make it easier and faster to make genetic changes in plants, a group of researchers has turned to a method called recombineering.


A new set of genetic tools

Recombineering allows genetic changes to be made to large segments of DNA. However, it isn't commonly used by plant scientists.

That's why a group of NC State researchers has produced a new set of genetic tools to make recombineering easier for plants.

They shared their methods in a recent paper published in the journal Plant Cell, and have also made the toolset available through the Arabidopsis Biological Resource Center.

Genetic Engineering Tools Allow for More Easily Modified Plants
Source: NC State

“Before, unless you were in a specialized lab that worked with big pieces of DNA and had a lot of experience in molecular biology, it was unlikely you would adopt recombineering,” Jose Alonso, a William Neal Reynolds Professor of Plant and Microbial Biology and senior author on the paper said in a press release.

“Our hope is that by making it more accessible, any molecular biology lab should be able to get into recombineering with these new tools. They should be a good resource.”

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Improving the reliability of plant science

The scientists hope the toolset will improve the efficiency and reliability of plant science — a field that forms the basis for innovations in pest control, yield resistance, and many other aspects of agriculture.

The toolset allows users to introduce genetic modifications in almost any plant species. This includes crops like corn, rice, and tomatoes, though it is easier to use in well-studied plants such as Arabidopsis, the researchers said. Arabidopsis is a small plant related to cabbage and mustard that is often used for lab experiments by many plant scientists.

Scientists can also use the toolset to insert multiple modified genes into a specific plant. The researchers hope the toolset, built over the past eight years, can be used to derive special compounds to create medications, and also help modify plants with increased resistance to certain viruses.

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