ITHACA, N.Y. -- Scientists may soon be able to quickly produce genetically modified crops without transferring genes across species, providing a novel approach to modifying plant characteristics to generate new traits. The new technique could be applied to improving the nutritional value and productivity of foods without the involvement of foreign DNA.The technique, described by researchers at the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) for Plant Research Inc., located on the campus of Cornell University, and researchers from Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., appears in today's (July 20) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Since the new technique described in the PNAS article does not involve inserting foreign DNA into a plant gene, the researchers are hopeful that this process will be a boon to agriculture. For the past 15 years, plant researchers have improved crop yields and pest resistance through a combination of breeding and transformation -- genetic engineering -- the latter using bacteria to transfer foreign DNA into plant cells.
Charles J. Arntzen, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of BTI and one of the authors on the research, notes that the BTI researchers also have collaborated with scientists using similar techniques for human gene therapy for the amelioration of human diseases like sickle cell anemia and Crigler-Nijjar Syndrome.
Arntzen believes the new technology "would be used to benefit farmers and food producers. We may one day be able to quickly reduce caffeine in coffee beans or shorten the long-chain fatty acids found in plants like soybeans -- making the fat in them more heart-healthy like olive oil," he says.
The technique called chimeraplasty was developed by Kimeragen Inc. of Newtown, Pa. In plants, chimeraplasty involves coating tiny gold particles with short chimeric DNA/RNA molecules that incorporate the genetic code for the desired changes to be made in the trait of interest. The coated particles are then bombarded into the plant cells where the DNA/RNA molecules function as templates for directing the cell to create the new trait in a way that does not involve incorporation of the introduced molecules into the plant's DNA. This method also can be used to improve, modify or correct gene function.
In the PNAS publication, the BTI researchers describe successful application of the chimeraplasty approach in tobacco cells. Pioneer researchers demonstrated the successful use of the method for developing important traits in corn. In addition, their work also shows those traits are inherited in the same way as traits are inherited through plant breeding.
The BTI research paper in PNAS is called, "A tool for functional plant genomics: Chimeric RNA/DNA oligonucleotides cause in vivo gene-specific mutations," and is authored by Peter R. Beetham, Peter B. Kipp, graduate student; Xenia L. Sawycky, Gregory D. May and Charles J. Arntzen. BTI was founded in 1924 in Yonkers, N.Y., and moved to Ithaca in 1978, affiliating with Cornell. BTI strives to improve human health and well-being and conserve the natural environment through plant research. Its comprehensive research areas include an emphasis on plants for human health.
Related World Wide Web site -- Boyce Thompson Institute: http://bti.cornell.edu
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