Technique for modifying plant genes could help provide sustainable food, fuel and fiber

 Technique for modifying plant genes could help provide sustainable food, fuel and fiberWashington, April 30 : Scientists have used a genome engineering tool they developed to make a model crop plant herbicide-resistant without significant changes to its DNA, which could help provide sustainable food, fuel and fiber.

The research team was from the University of Minnesota and Massachusetts General Hospital in the US.

"It's still a GMO (Genetically Modified Organism), but the modification was subtle," said Daniel Voytas, lead author and director of the U of M Center for Genome Engineering. "We made a slight change in the sequence of the plant's own DNA rather than adding foreign DNA," he added.

The new approach has the potential to help scientists modify plants to produce food, fuel and fiber sustainably while minimizing concerns about genetically modified organisms.

For the study, the researchers created a customized enzyme called a zinc finger nuclease (ZFN) to change single genes in tobacco plant cells.

The altered cells were then cultured to produce mature plants that survived exposure to herbicides.

"This is the first real advance in technology to genetically modify plants since foreign DNA was introduced into plant chromosomes in the early 1980s," Voytas said.

"It could become a revolutionary tool for manipulating plant, animal and human genomes," he added.

According to Voytas, the method can be used to improve the nutrition of crop plants, make plants more amenable to conversion into biofuels, and help plants adapt to climate change.

"The world is going to turn increasingly to plants to solve lots of problems. Now we have a new set of tools to help," he said.

Voytas' next steps will be to apply the technology to Arabidopsis thaliana, a model plant, and rice, the world's most important food crop. He is also adapting algae for biofuel production.

"The technology is ready for prime time," Voytas said. "There is no scientific reason it can't be applied to crop plants now to improve agricultural output and practices," he added. (ANI)