Historic field trials show potential for gene editing – sciencedaily

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Field trials of healthy compounds in Brassica crops of agronomic importance have highlighted the “immense potential” of gene-editing technology, the researchers said.

The trials are the first field application of the technology in the UK since the reclassification of genetically modified crops as genetically modified organisms by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in 2018.

The findings come as the UK government determines whether to allow gene editing approaches for food production, following a public consultation led by DEFRA.

“Our results demonstrate the immense potential of gene editing to facilitate crop improvement by translating findings into fundamental biological processes,” said Professor Lars Østergaard, group leader at the John Innes Center and one of the authors of the study.

“Modern technologies such as CRISPR gene editing provide opportunities to nutritionally fortify foods and safely adapt crops to new environments, addressing the serious challenge that the climate crisis poses to global food production. “, he added.

The study focused on glucosinolates which are known to impart the distinctive, often pungent, flavor to cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and kale, and are associated with beneficial effects on human health.

These sulfur-containing organic compounds are produced exclusively by plants in this group and are believed to have health benefits, including being anti-carcinogenic, promoting better blood sugar control, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. For this reason, increasing their levels has been an important target for vegetable cruciferous breeders.

Previous work using model plants under optimal laboratory conditions has shown that the biosynthesis of glucosinolates in the Brassicaceae family is regulated by the MYB28 gene. But the effects of this master regulator have not been verified by translating them into cultivated plants grown in the field.

In this proof-of-concept study, scientists successfully used CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology to “knock out” the MYB28 gene in Brassica oleracea (a species that includes many common cultivars such as broccoli). Single gene knockouts in the genus Brassica are complicated by multiple copies of many genes, including those of the glucosinolate biosynthetic pathway.

The genetically modified plants were cultivated under field test conditions in accordance with Directive 2001/18 on GMOs, in accordance with the ECJ decision of 2018. Genetic and metabolomic analysis showed that the deletion of the gene downregulated glucosinolate biosynthetic genes and reduced glucosinolate accumulation in leaves and florets of field-grown myb28 mutant broccoli plants.

These results revealed for the first time that MYB28 in B. oleracea regulates the levels of glucosinolates in a field environment, in agreement with previous results obtained with model plants and in the greenhouse.

Reducing gene activity via knockout is one application of the Gene Editing Toolkit.

First author Dr Mikhaela Neequaye said: “By showing that the main regulator of the methionine-derived glucosinolate biosynthetic genes, MYB28, works in the field, as we know in greenhouse crops, the gene MYB28 represents a reliable target for manipulating glucosinolate in vegetable crucifers. This study highlights the potential of gene editing in the characterization and ongoing modification of these processes in the field, in often complex cropping systems “

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