Biotech Updates

Bacterium Transfers Own Genes into Plants to Give Them Superpowers

May 10, 2023

Transformed oilseed rape have stronger root systems and are expected to have increased drought tolerance. Photo Source: University of Copenhagen

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have discovered plants that contain root oncogenic loci (rol) genes that originate from Rhizobium rhizogenes bacteria introduced to a wide variety of plants millions of years ago through a natural process. The bacterium R. rhizogenes has the special ability to transfer its genes to host plants and transform them in the process.

Henrik Lütken and his research team at the University of Copenhagen's Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences working on potted plants noticed that the transformed plants also had significantly more and longer roots. The team hypothesized that maybe the bacterial genes could help make plants drought resistant. The team's hypothesis is now being tested using wild and naturally altered plants in a drought experiment. According to Lütken, the results will be important as climate change has put pressure on a wide variety of crops, and the European Union remains closed to genetically modified (GM) crops.

If the current European GMO policies are maintained, R. rhizogenes could help accelerate the natural development of drought-resistant crops, as the method does not alter the bacterium's natural genetics and does not fall under GMO definitions. The research team has achieved positive results in making oilseed rape drought resistant with a strengthened root system.

For more details, read the article in the University of Copenhagen News.

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