Nav: Home

Directed evolution comes to plants

June 19, 2019

A new platform for speeding up and controlling the evolution of proteins inside living plants has been developed by a KAUST-led team.

Previously, this type of directed evolution system was only possible in viruses, bacteria, yeast and mammalian cell lines. The Saudi research--part of KAUST's Desert Agriculture Initiative--has now expanded the technique to rice and other food plants. It means that plant breeders now have an easy way to rapidly engineer new crop varieties capable of withstanding weeds, diseases, pests and other agricultural stresses.

"We expect that our platform will be used for crop bioengineering to improve key traits that impact yield and immunity to pathogens," says group leader Magdy Mahfouz. "This technology should help improve plant resilience under climate change conditions."

To experimentally build their directed evolution platform, Mahfouz and his colleagues used a combination of targeted mutagenesis and artificial selection in the rice plant, Oryza sativa. They took advantage of the gene-editing tool known as CRISPR to generate DNA breaks at more than 100 sites throughout the SF3B1 gene, which encodes a protein involved in the processing of other gene transcripts. After manipulating the DNA of small bundles of rice cells in this way, the researchers then grew the mutated seedlings in the presence of herboxidiene, a herbicide that normally targets the SF3B1 protein to inhibit plant growth and development.

This strategy ultimately yielded more than 20 new rice variants with mutations that conferred resistance to herboxidiene to varying degrees. In collaboration with Stefan Arold's group at the KAUST Computational Bioscience Research Center, Mahfouz and his colleagues then characterized the structural basis of the resistance--showing, for example, how particular mutations helped destabilize herbicide binding to the SF3B1 protein.

Herboxidiene is not widely used in industrial agriculture, but the same basic directed evolution strategy could now be used to design crops resistant to more common weed-killers. The herbicides would then eliminate unwanted surrounding plants while leaving the desired cultivated crop intact.

Breeders could also begin to evolve practically any trait of interest, notes Haroon Butt, a postdoctoral fellow in Mahfouz's lab. "This is a proof-of-principle study with wide applicability," says Butt, the first author of the paper that outlines the technology. "Our platform mimics Darwinism, and the selection pressure involved helps enforce the development of new gene variants and traits that would not be possible by any other known method."
-end-


King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST)

Related Evolution Articles:

Is evolution predictable?
An international team of scientists working with Heliconius butterflies at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama was faced with a mystery: how do pairs of unrelated butterflies from Peru to Costa Rica evolve nearly the same wing-color patterns over and over again?
Predicting evolution
A new method of 're-barcoding' DNA allows scientists to track rapid evolution in yeast.
Insect evolution: Insect evolution
Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have shown that the incidence of midge and fly larvae in amber is far higher than previously thought.
Evolution of aesthetic dentistry
One of the main goals of dental treatment is to mimic teeth and design smiles in the most natural and aesthetic manner, based on the individual and specific needs of the patient.
An evolution in the understanding of evolution
In an open-source research paper, a UVA Engineering professor and her former Ph.D. student share a new, more accurate method for modeling evolutionary change.
Chemical evolution -- One-pot wonder
Before life, there was RNA: Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich show how the four different letters of this genetic alphabet could be created from simple precursor molecules on early Earth -- under the same environmental conditions.
Catching evolution in the act
Researchers have produced some of the first evidence that shows that artificial selection and natural selection act on the same genes, a hypothesis predicted by Charles Darwin in 1859.
Guppies teach us why evolution happens
New study on guppies shows that animals evolve in response the the environment they create in the absence of predators, rather than in response to the risk of being eaten.
Undercover evolution
Our individuality is encrypted in our DNA, but it is deeper than expected.
Evolution designed by parasites
In 'Invisible Designers: Brain Evolution Through the Lens of Parasite Manipulation,' published in the September 2019 issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology, Marco Del Giudice explores an overlooked aspect of the relationship between parasites and their hosts by systematically discussing the ways in which parasitic behavior manipulation may encourage the evolution of mechanisms in the host's nervous and endocrine systems.
More Evolution News and Evolution Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.