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Crop Biotech Update

Programming Antiviral Defenses in Plants through Genome Editing

February 1, 2017

Studies on plant–virus interactions have increased our understanding of plant resistance mechanisms, thus, providing new tools for crop improvement. For the past decades, RNA interference, a post-transcriptional gene silencing approach, has been used to induce antiviral defenses in plants with the help of genetic engineering technologies.

New genome editing systems (GES) have revolutionized the development of virus resistance in plants. The most famous GES are zinc finger nucleases (ZFN), transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALEN), and clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/Cas9 endonuclease (CRISPR/Cas9). These introduce mutations, which can "turn off" genes, via double-strand breaks at specific DNA sequences via non-homologous recombination end-joining.

However, recent studies of GES targeting ssRNA molecules, including virus genomes, paved the way for future studies on developing plant defense against RNA viruses. Most of the pathogenic plant virus species have an RNA genome and at least 784 species have positive ssRNA. In their study, Gustavo Romay and Claude Bragard provide a summary of the latest progress in plant antiviral defenses mediated by GES.

They also discuss some current regulatory framework for agricultural products involving the use of such engineering technologies.

For more on this study, read the article in Frontiers in Microbiology.