Plant editing gets easier with CRISPR loaded pollen

maisPollination is a natural way to deliver DNA into plant cells. So why not to use pollen as a vehicle for CRISPR machinery to start genome editing? HI Edit, as this approach is called, has been successfully tested by Syngenta in corn, Arabidopsis and wheat in the lab. Please see the paper just published in Nature Biotechnology by Timothy Kelliher et al., Jon Cohen’s piece in Science, and a quick guide to HI (haploid induction) from Current Biology. Leading wheat geneticist Cristobal Uauy of the John Innes Centre also showed high spirit, when asked for comment by email: “The possibility to genome edit any variety is revolutionary given that transformation is so difficult in many species. If I understand this correctly this would be a game changer as it would allow us to alter genes in elite cultivars.”

Developing CRISPR for developing countries

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Researchers from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nairobi, Kenya, are using CRISPR to inactivate the banana streak virus DNA in the genome of plantain. Their strategy, reported in Communications Biology today, paves the way for improving banana breeding and getting better varieties of this staple food crop. This project is a welcome addition to the list of CRISPR applications being considered for developing countries’ agriculture, such as maize varieties resistant to lethal necrosis and cassava resistant to brown streak disease.

 

From chili pepper to hot tomato?

this image shows jalapeño peppers (a cultivated variety of capsicum annuum) credit emmanuel rezende naves

Chili peppers have happily entered our kitchens with their capsaicinoid content, since Cristoforo Colombo brought then back from Central America. Capsicum species however are labour-intensive and difficult to grow. They are also notoriously recalcitrant to biotechnological intervention. Tomatoes are much handier in comparison. The Capsicum and Solanum clades split at least 19 Mya ago but comparative genomics has revealed that tomatoes retain all the necessary genes for pungency. Why not to harness CRISPR power to turn tomatoes into capsaicinoid biofactories then? Continue reading

Your CRISPR blogger tries the real thing

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My lab adventure in the Italian edition of Scientific American (Le Scienze)

It’s never too late to learn how to rewrite a genome. So here I am, attending this CRISPR school. Forget the do-it-yourself kits sold over the internet. I am lucky enough to take the first practical course on genome editing organized by the Italian Society of Agricultural Genetics (Siga) in Grugliasco, at the Department of Agricultural, Forestry and Food Sciences of the University of Turin. After writing a lot about CRISPR, it’s time to try the real thing. Continue reading

CRISPR seeds: the asexual revolution is now

apomictic rice UC Davis

Imtiyaz Khanday (left), Venkatesan Sundaresan (right)  with their apomictic rice  (credit: KARIN HIGGINS/UC DAVIS)

“To make a seed it takes a fruit,” pupils use to sing in Italy. Then students learn that there is an embryo inside seeds and it takes a pollen fertilized egg to make it. The dream of plant scientists, however, has always been to be able to produce seeds using only the cell egg. This dream has finally come true: a group led by Venkatesan Sundaresan, at UC Davis, has developed a rice variety capable of cloning its seed. Continue reading

Milan toasts with biotech wine

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Assobiotec tasting event in Milan (photo credit: Marco Marazza)

When toasting during Christmas holidays, perhaps with a glass of Italian sparkling prosecco, think about it: viticulture in Europe occupies 3% of the cultivated area, but it accounts for 65% of all fungicides employed in agriculture. The adoption of new wine grape varieties resistant to powdery and downy mildew could significantly cut chemical use. If fairly regulated, advanced biotech tools such as CRISPR could help sustainability without losing anything of the genetic identity of iconic varieties. Continue reading

CRISPR rice vs GM rice: which would you buy?

Rice_grains_(IRRI)Just imagine you could find them all on the supermarket shelves, would you buy rice labeled as CRISPR or GMO, or stick to conventional non-genetically modified rice? And what price would you consider fair? Aaron Shew and colleagues from the University of Arkansas conducted a multi-country assessment of willingness-to-pay for and willingness-to-consume a hypothetical CRISPR-produced food and published their findings in Global Food Security. Continue reading