Biotech Updates

UGA Researchers Design New Technique to Enhance Crops

March 7, 2018

UGA researchers developed a new method to enhance the traits of crops. The introduced a human protein into Arabidopsis, and found that they could selectively activate silenced genes already present in the plant. The results are published in Nature Communications.

Lexiang Ji, William Jordan, and co-researchers explored a new method known as epimutagenesis which makes it possible to breed diverse plants in a way that is not achievable through conventional techniques. The idea started with studying DNA methylation, which controls expressed traits. When DNA methylation is removed, they found that they could selectively turn on previously silenced genes. Thus, they planned to turn on the silenced genes to generate trait variation.To remove DNA methylation and turn on the silenced genes, they introduced a human enzyme (ten-eleven translocation enzyme) to plant seedlings using modified bacteria as vector. This resulted to widespread hypomethylation that can be inherited to subsequent generations. 

"If they don't have the genetic differences to respond, then it can really wipe out crops," said Robert Schmitz, corresponding author of the study. "This isn't a savior, but it's an alternative strategy that has not been tried before. The idea is to access genes that people haven't been studying because they're not expressed but they're there. We think this method to reactivate these genes could lead to increased trait variation which could be useful for biotechnology applications."

For more information, read the news release from UGA and the research article in Nature Communications.