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New CRISPR/Cas9 Plant Genetics Technology to Improve Agricultural Yield and Resist the Effects of Climate Change

Arabidopsis plants

Arabidopsis plants were used to develop the first CRISPR-Cas9-based gene drive in plants. Photo credit: Zhao Lab, UC San Diego

Scientists develop the first CRISPR / Cas9-based gene drive in plants

New technology for growing more resilient crops to improve agricultural yields and withstand the effects of climate change.

With the aim of growing resilient crops that can better withstand drought and disease, scientists at the University of California at San Diego have developed the first CRISPR-Cas9-based gene drive in plants.

While gene drive technology was developed in insects to stop the spread of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, researchers in Professor Yunde Zhao’s laboratory, along with colleagues at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, demonstrated the successful design of a CRISPR-Cas9 – based gene drive that cuts and copies genetic elements Arabidopsis Plants.

The new research breaks with the traditional rules of inheritance that dictate that offspring acquire genetic material from each parent equally (Mendelian genetics) and uses CRISPR-Cas9 editing to carry over specific, targeted traits from a single parent into subsequent generations. Such genetic engineering could be used in agriculture to help plants ward off disease in order to grow more productive crops. The technology could also help protect crops against the effects of climate change, such as increasing drought conditions in a warming world.

New Plant Gene Drive scheme

A schematic representation of a new plant gene drive using CRISPR / Cas9 technology. Photo credit: Zhao Lab, UC San Diego

The research, led by postdoctoral fellow Tao Zhang and PhD student Michael Mudget in Zhao’s laboratory, is published in the journal Nature communication.