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

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

Scientists Develop the First CRISPR/Cas9-Based Gene Drive in Plants

New technology designed to breed more robust crops to improve agricultural yield and resist the effects of climate change.

With a goal of breeding resilient crops that are better able to withstand drought and disease, University of California San Diego scientists have developed the first CRISPR-Cas9-based gene drive in plants.

While gene drive technology has been developed in insects to help stop the spread of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, researchers in Professor Yunde Zhao’s lab, 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 in Arabidopsis plants.

Breaking from the traditional inheritance rules that dictate that offspring acquire genetic materials equally from each parent (Mendelian genetics), the new research uses CRISPR-Cas9 editing to transmit specific, targeted traits from a single parent in subsequent generations. Such genetic engineering could be used in agriculture to help plants defend against diseases to grow more productive crops. The technology also could help fortify plants against the impacts of climate change such as increased drought conditions in a warming world.

New Plant Gene Drive Schematic

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

The research, led by postdoctoral scholar Tao Zhang and graduate student Michael Mudgett in Zhao’s lab, is published in the journal Nature Communications