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The genome editor CRISPR has transformed many areas of biology, but using this tool to enhance certain varieties of crops such as wheat and corn remains difficult because of the plants’ tough cell walls. Now, a major agricultural company has creatively solved that problem by using pollen from one genetically modified plant to carry CRISPR’s components into another plant’s cells. The solution promises to speed the creation of better and more versatile crops, scientists say.
In its initial experiments, the company has edited varieties of corn to have more or heavier kernels, which could make them higher yielding. “Nice!” says Daniel Voytas, a plant biologist at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul who helped invent a different genome editor and co-founded another company to exploit it. “It’s exciting that an increasing number of research groups—both in academia and industry—are thinking of new ways to deliver gene-editing [components] and to efficiently recover gene-edited plants.”
CRISPR - Scissors - Cas9 - Guide - RNA
CRISPR consists of enzymatic scissors called Cas9 that a guide made from RNA shuttles to an exact place in a genome. Because plant cells have an extra-rigid wall compared with animal cells, it’s more difficult for CRISPR’s Cas9 and the guide RNA (gRNA) to reach their genomes and make edits. So researchers have had to splice those CRISPR genes into a bacterium that can breach the plant cell wall or put them on gold particles and shoot them in with what’s known as a gene gun. Not only is this inelegant, it doesn’t work in many plant species, including important crop varieties.
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A team of researchers led by plant biologists Timothy Kelliher and Qiudeng Que of Syngenta in Durham, North Carolina, fashioned a way around this problem by exploiting an odd phenomenon known as haploid...
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