WEST LAFAYETTE — A recent discovery could lead to easier genetic modification of plant varieties considered recalcitrant to standard methods, including varieties of economically important crops.
A Purdue University research team identified a gene that influences susceptibility to infection by Agrobacterium tumefaciens, a bacterium that is used as a tool to insert genes into plants to produce traits such as resistance to pests, diseases or harsh environmental conditions or to improve the nutrition or shelf life of a crop.
“There is a great need for a way to genetically modify plants not only on a large scale for important cash crops but also on a small scale for research,” said Stanton Gelvin, Purdue’s Edwin Umbarger Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences who led the research. “What we’ve discovered could lead to a way to increase a plant’s susceptibility to Agrobacterium infection and open the door to its use on a much broader range of plants.”
Agrobacterium-mediated plant transformation is widely used in the agricultural biotechnology industry, but it doesn’t work well for many varieties and species of plants, he said.
“Some of the most elite and desirable cultivars in agriculture can only be improved through the age-old genetic modification method of breeding, which is less genetically precise, requires numerous steps and takes years,” he said.
The team studied genes in Arabidopsis, a small plant related to mustard that is a common research model. The researchers identified a gene that plays a central role in susceptibility to genetic transformation and discovered the mechanism and specifics of its action. Bioinformatic analyses and gene libraries suggest this gene is also found in corn, soybeans, wheat, oilseed rape, cacao, rice and many others, but the team needs to verify this experimentally, Gelvin said.
“This could go beyond the major economic crops and allow this type of genetic engineering to be applied to trees used for paper, fruit and ornamental trees, and flowers,” he said. “This is not the only gene involved in genetic transformation susceptibility, but it is a global regulator that influences a whole suite of genes and plays a very significant role in this process.”