Plant breeding: Using ‘invisible’ chromosomes to pass on packages of positive traits

The ideal crop plant is tasty and high-yielding while also being resistant to diseases and pests. But if the relevant genes are far apart on a chromosome, some of these positive traits can be lost during breeding.

To ensure that positive traits can be passed on together, researchers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have used CRISPR/Cas molecular scissors to invert and thus genetically deactivate nine-tenths of a chromosome.

The traits coded for on this part of the chromosome become “invisible” for genetic exchange and can thus be passed on unchanged. The researchers have reported on their findings in Nature Plants.

Targeted editing, insertion or suppression of genes in plants is possible with CRISPR/Cas molecular scissors. (CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.) This method can be used to make plants more resistant to pests, diseases or environmental influences.

“In recent years, we were able for the first time to use CRISPR/Cas not only to edit genes but also to change the structure of chromosomes,” says Professor Holger Puchta, who for 30 years has been researching applications for gene scissors with his team at KIT’s Botanical Institute.

“Genes are linearly arranged along chromosomes. By changing their sequence, we were able to show how desired traits in plants can be separated from undesired ones.” Continue reading

‘Dream’ discovery could sow crops better equipped to weather the climate change storm

Scientists from The Australian National University (ANU) and James Cook University (JCU) have identified an “exquisite” natural mechanism that helps plants limit their water loss with little effect on carbon dioxide (CO2) intake – an essential process for photosynthesis, plant growth and crop yield.

The discovery, led by Dr Chin Wong from ANU, is expected to help agricultural scientists and plant breeders develop more water-efficient crops.

Study co-author Dr Diego Marquez from ANU said the findings will have significant implications for the agricultural industry and could lead to more resilient crops that are capable of withstanding extreme weather events, including drought.

“Plants continuously lose water through pores in the ‘skin’ of their leaves. These same pores allow CO2 to enter the leaves and are critical to their survival,” Dr Marquez said. 

“For every unit of CO2 gained, plants typically lose hundreds of units of water. This is why plants require a lot of water in order to grow and survive.

“The mechanism we have demonstrated is activated when the environment is dry, such as on a hot summer day, to allow the plant to reduce water loss with little effect on CO2 uptake.” Continue reading

Bayer and Meiogenix aim to foster plant breeding and genome editing technologies

Bayer and Meiogenix, a biotech company focused on next-generation breeding technologies, have announced a collaboration to advance agricultural research and development by accelerating the development of Meiogenix’s proprietary technologies related to plant breeding and genome editing applications.

The companies say this research collaboration has the potential to deliver much-needed plant health and nutrition improvements to food crops so farmers can more efficiently and sustainably grow improved plant varieties that deliver the types of foods consumers want.

“Farmers need innovative solutions as they face limited natural resources and a changing climate,” said Jeremy Williams, Head of Plant Biotechnology, Crop Science Research & Development (R&D) at Bayer. 

“Access to Meiogenix’s proprietary technologies could improve the precision and speed with which our breeders enhance crops, which could ultimately accelerate those solutions for the diverse needs of people and our planet.” Continue reading

Wageningen researchers find yields from new crop varieties continue to increase

New varieties continue to yield more than their predecessors, according to research into varieties of winter wheat, spring barley, potatoes grown for starch and sugar beet which have been introduced in the Netherlands by plant breeding companies between 1980 and 2010.

Contrary to recent concerns that important crops in high-yielding regions have reached their production maximum, the research at Wageningen University shows plant breeding can still lead to increases in production.

Continue reading