Researcher develop new technique for modifying plant genes

April 29, 2009

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Massachusetts General Hospital have used a genome engineering tool they developed to make a model crop plant herbicide-resistant without significant changes to its DNA.

"It's still a GMO [Genetically Modified Organism] but the modification was subtle," said Daniel Voytas, lead author and director of the U of M Center for Genome Engineering. "We made a slight change in the sequence of the plant's own DNA rather than adding foreign DNA."

The new approach has the potential to help scientists modify plants to produce food, fuel and fiber sustainably while minimizing concerns about genetically modified organisms

For the study, the researchers created a customized enzyme called a zinc finger nuclease (ZFN) to change single genes in tobacco plant cells. The altered cells were then cultured to produce mature plants that survived exposure to herbicides.

The research will be published online by Nature on April 29.

"This is the first real advance in technology to genetically modify plants since foreign DNA was introduced into plant chromosomes in the early 1980s," Voytas said. "It could become a revolutionary tool for manipulating plant, animal and human genomes."

Zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) are engineered enzymes that bind to specific and introduce modifications at or near the binding site. The standard way to genetically modify an organism is to introduce foreign genes into a genome without knowing where they will be incorporated. The random nature of the standard method has given rise to concerns about potential health and environmental hazards of genetically modified organisms.

Voytas is a co-founder of the Zinc Finger Consortium www.zincfingers.org), which developed a do-it-yourself strategy for academic researchers. The consortium is led by co-author J. Keith Joung, a pathologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor at Harvard University. The consortium published its method (called Oligomerized Pool Engineering, or OPEN) in the July 2008 issue of Molecular Cell. Nature published a perspective feature on OPEN and a commercial strategy in September 2008.

Voytas' lab used ZFNs created by the OPEN method to modify the tobacco cells to make them herbicide resistant. According to Voytas, OPEN ZFNs can be used to improve the nutrition of crop plants, make plants more amenable to conversion into biofuels, and help plants adapt to climate change.

"The world is going to turn increasingly to plants to solve lots of problems. Now we have a new set of tools to help." Voytas said.

Voytas' next steps will be to apply the technology to Arabidopsis thaliana, a model plant, and rice, the world's most important food crop. He is also adapting algae for biofuel production.

"The technology is ready for prime time," Voytas said. "There is no scientific reason it can't be applied to crop plants now to improve agricultural output and practices."

Source: University of Minnesota (news : web)

Explore further: Super plants may fight African hunger

Related Stories

Super plants may fight African hunger

May 24, 2006

Ohio scientists say they've produced genetically modified cassava plants with roots more than two-and-a-half times the size of normal cassava roots.

Studying How Modified Genes Escape Into Nature

February 5, 2007

A University of Arkansas researcher and her colleagues are developing a way to examine how the genomes rearrange themselves during hybridization to better pinpoint how genetically modified organisms may behave when they cross ...

Recommended for you

Findings illuminate animal evolution in protein function

July 27, 2015

Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Richmond researchers recently teamed up to explore the inner workings of cells and shed light on the 400–600 million years of evolution between humans and early animals ...

New polymer able to store energy at higher temperatures

July 30, 2015

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers at the Pennsylvania State University has created a new polymer that is able to store energy at higher temperatures than conventional polymers without breaking down. In their paper published ...

How to look for a few good catalysts

July 30, 2015

Two key physical phenomena take place at the surfaces of materials: catalysis and wetting. A catalyst enhances the rate of chemical reactions; wetting refers to how liquids spread across a surface.

Yarn from slaughterhouse waste

July 29, 2015

ETH researchers have developed a yarn from ordinary gelatine that has good qualities similar to those of merino wool fibers. Now they are working on making the yarn even more water resistant.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.