Researchers at North Carolina State University have used CRISPR to create trees with much less lignin content and much more fiber content than the trees they started with which is good for the North Carolina wood pulp industry.
What’s really notable about this is not so much that they use CRISPR to edit the trees’ genes but, rather, how they determined which genes to edit in the first place:
“By assessing every possible combination of 69,123 multigenic editing strategies for 21 lignin biosynthesis genes, we deduced seven different genome editing strategies targeting the concurrent alteration of up to six genes and produced 174 edited poplar variants.”
Put another way, they used brute-force computer modeling to suss out and edit multiple genes en mass. This differs from the conventional genetic engineering approach of targeting individual genes one-by-one, often after years of painstaking research to identify the target genes in the first place.
Important breeding goals in roses each involve many genes. For disease resistance, in particular, such quantitative trait locii, QTL, are well studied. They would seem to be amenable targets for this new CRISP strategy.
Does anyone know if such efforts with roses are underway?
So to answer my own question, yes - but the method they used to identify target genes is a bit more elegant.
An efficient CRISPR/Cas9 platform for targeted genome editing in rose (Rosa hybrida)
Bioengineers in China have developed a method to identify and then target specific promoter regions of genes from roses. In this example case they mutated genes responsible for ethylene sensitivity in a cultivar named Samantha (there are three listed at HMF but it is probably this one based on the photos in the paper).
The resulting plants flowered but the blooms refused to open, a process that is mediated by ethylene.
The method they developed is broadly applicable to roses generally. Since the full genome of roses has already been published we can soon expect the arrival of a whole new generation of roses that are disease free, insect-resistant, completely thornless, heavenly scented and drop-dead gorgeous.
They will also be expensive and you won’t be allowed to market their descendants without a license from the patent holder.
Well that sounds equally amazing and also truly horrific. So what if one of my roses happened (even without using their plant for pollen or as a mother) to have the same gene as one of these super mutants? Sounds like the end of a hobby
My guess is that engineered plants will carry identifiers in their DNA, genetic signatures of the inventors as it were, so that blatant replicants will be obvious. More subtle knock-offs will still be highly suspect, and rightfully so because the likelihood of any natural mutation matching the genetics of an engineered plant will be vanishingly small.
Think of it this way: breeders have been pounding on, for instance, disease resistance for centuries. If a super-resistant mutant were to appear naturally it would have happened by now. This is especially true of quantitative traits where there are multiple different genes involved.
I’m quite in favor of the the genetic breakthroughs that are coming down the pike and much looking forward to them. I’ll stand in line to purchase roses that are actually bullet-proof.
I only wish I had the re$ourc$ to do the engineering myself.
If i had money, i would totally do a project too! Ive already designed a whole project to do genetic engineering using agrobacterium mediated gene transfer. I estimate that it would be between 1-2k to do. A rose enthusiast can dream. The agrobacterium mediated gene transfer has its challenges too, like low rates of transformation, different rose species are more or less susceptible to the bacteria, and the chance that the trait will just dissapear over time through epigenetic changes. I would love to translate my idea over to a crispr design though. One day! Just need to finish my PhD program and make some more money
Agrobacter is passé plus it comes with a lot of regulatory baggage. So far, at least, CRISPR has not been regulated because it does not introduce foreign genes but, rather, only modifies native genes.
Ive already designed a whole project to do genetic engineering using agrobacterium mediated gene transfer. I estimate that it would be between 1-2k to do.
Once upon a time back when agrobacter was a new thing I had the same ambition with the objective being transfecting Rosa sp with delphinidin genetics from violets or petunia. Try as I might I couldn’t find an institutional partner although there was plenty of interest. Not too many years later the idea was picked up by an Australian company named Florigene who wasted a decade and tens of millions of dollars on the project before being sold to Suntory. The last tally I heard, about 20 years ago, was $25 million with no true blue rose to show for it although they had some mauve carnations in production.
To my knowledge the deed has still not been accomplished.
I would love to translate my idea over to a crispr design though.
I got some advice once from a molecular bio post-doc at Cornell who suggested brute force might work better than agrobacter. By this he meant shotgun cloning the dna from violets into roses. It is relatively cheap and easy to do if you skip tissue culture and target apical meristems instead.
In europe CRISPR is still considered as genetic manipulation, according to the European Court of Justice.
So to my knowing, it is not worth the effort for European breeders. It is much easier and cost effective today creating new roses through traditional breeding. And I believe it will remain like that for a very long time…
And to be honest, why would you want to use CRISPR in rose breeding? Our imagination is so limited… But the seedlings we raise as breeders are often beyond our imagination.