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Salk researchers have mapped the genomes and epigenomes of genetically modified plant lines with the highest resolution ever to reveal exactly what happens at a molecular level when a piece of foreign DNA is inserted. Their findings, published in the journal PLOS Genetics on January 15, 2019, elucidate the routine methods used to modify plants, and offer new ways to more effectively minimize potential off-target effects.
"This was really a starting point for showing that it's possible to use the latest mapping and sequencing technologies to look at the impact of inserting genes into the plant genome," says Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Joseph Ecker, a professor in Salk's Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory and head of the Genomic Analysis Laboratory.
Scientist - Gene - Research - Purposes - Health
When a scientist wants to put a new gene into a plant—for basic research purposes or to boost the health or nutrition of a food crop—they usually rely on Agrobacterium tumefaciens to get the job done. Agrobacterium is the bacteria that causes crown gall tumors, large bulges on the trunks of trees. Decades ago, scientists discovered that when the bacteria infected a tree, it transferred some of its DNA to the tree's genome. Since then, researchers have co-opted this transfer ability of Agrobacterium for their own purposes, using its transfer-DNA (T-DNA) to move a desired gene into a plant.
Recently, DNA sequencing technologies had started to hint that when the Agrobacterium T-DNA is used to insert new genes into a plant, it may cause additional changes to the structural and chemical properties of the native DNA.
Biotech - Companies - Lot - Time - Effort
"Biotech companies spend a lot of time and effort to characterize transgenic plants and disregard candidates with unwanted changes without understanding—from a basic biological perspective—why these changes may have occurred," says Ecker. "Our new approach offers a way to better understand these effects and may help...
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