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Aiming at staple food crops

Gene editing approach for broad disease resistance

According to a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist, a novel gene editing approach could hold the key to broad-spectrum disease resistance in certain staple food crops without causing physical detriment to the plants. Dr. Junqi Song, AgriLife Research plant pathologist in Dallas, explores how a new gene editing approach might achieve better disease resistance in a wide range of crop plants.

His team mainly focuses on addressing late blight disease in tomato and potato. The Texas grown crops are part of a nearly $6 billion national production value, according to USDA data.

Song: “Most successes with broad-spectrum disease resistance so far have resulted from ‘knockout gene editing’, where certain genes are switched off to cause desired behaviours in a subject plant. But successes from knockout editing come at a cost to many other aspects of the plant’s physical health and other characteristics.”

As an alternative to switching genes off, Song’s team, using an emerging technology known as the CRISPR/Cas9 system, will introduce, or ‘knock in’, a specific set of genetic regulators. He believes the regulators discovered by his team will allow disease resistance to increase without harming the subject plant. “By comparison, the knock-in approach is a much more complicated process than knockout.”

“There is a growing demand for agricultural production as global populations continue to grow,” Song said. “We will need to develop increasingly efficient systems to meet this demand and hopefully our work is a step in the right direction.”

Source: Agrilife

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