Thoughts from the President

January 27, 2023 - Three Notable New Publications

This week, let’s celebrate a few notable research articles published by Danforth Center teams over the last few months. Congratulations to all of the contributors!

Dowd, T.G., Li, M., Bagnall, G.C. et al. (2022). Root system architecture and environmental flux analysis in mature crops using 3D root mesocosms. Frontiers Plant Sci.13:1041404. DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2022.1041404.

This paper reports on a novel system to visualize, measure and analyze full-size root systems by the Topp lab. They developed large, customized plant growth boxes called mesocosms, which are loaded with sensors to measure environmental factors around the roots. Complete root system can be imaged and visualized in 3D through photogrammetry. These mesocosms enable discovery of new root traits and better understanding of the impact of subterranean biotic and abiotic factors on crop plant growth and development.

Veley, K.M., Elliott, K., Jensen, G. et al. (2023). Improving cassava bacterial blight resistance by editing the epigenome. Nature Commun. 14:85. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-35675-7.

Epigenetics is difficult for non-specialists to get their head around. Very simply, epigenetics involves reversible ‘decorations’ that get bonded to, or layered upon, parts of an organism’s DNA. One such decoration is DNA methylation, which is often associated with turning off gene expression. In this paper, a Becky Bart-led collaboration between UCLA and Danforth Center teams showed that DNA methylation can be directed to new sites in the cassava genome using gene editing-like technology. Targeting methylation to the MeSWEET10a gene was shown to decrease gene expression and, as predicted, increase resistance to an important bacterial pathogen.

Beyene, G., Chauhan, R.D., Vilmer, J., et al. (2022) CRISPR/Cas9-mediated tetra-allelic mutation of the 'Green Revolution' SEMIDWARF-1 (SD-1) gene confers lodging resistance in tef (Eragrostis tef). Plant Biotechnol J. 20: 1716-1729. DOI: 10.1111/pbi.13842.

Bringing advanced technologies to orphan crop improvement will be important to elevate food availability, nutrition, and livelihoods of small holder farmers. This collaborative work led by the Institute for International Crop Improvement (IICI) team used gene editing to create mutations in the Semidwarf-1 (SD-1) gene in tef, a staple grain crop grown most commonly in Ethiopia. Like wheat, tall varieties tef are susceptible to lodging (falling over during heavy wind and rain), which limits productivity. But here, some of the SD-1-edited tef were 28-42% shorter than the original varieties, and had lodging-resistant characteristics. These new traits may have great value in breeding improved tef varieties.

Jim Carrington,
President and Chief Executive Officer

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