Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) and Cas9-associated protein systems provide a powerful genetic manipulation tool that can drive plant research forward. Nuclease-dead Cas9 (dCas9) is an enzymatically inactive mutant of Cas9 in which its endonuclease activity is non-functional. The applications of CRISPR/dCas9 have expanded and diversified in recent years. Originally, dCas9 was used as a CRISPR/Cas9 re-engineering tool that enables targeted expression of any gene or multiple genes through recruitment of transcriptional effector domains without introducing irreversible DNA-damaging mutations. Subsequent applications have made use of its ability to recruit modifying enzymes and reporter proteins to DNA target sites. In this paper, the most recent progress in the applications of CRISPR/dCas9 in plants, which include gene activation and repression, epigenome editing, modulation of chromatin topology, live-cell chromatin imaging and DNA-free genetic modification, will be reviewed. The associated strategies for exploiting the CRISPR/dCas9 system for crop improvement with a dimer of the future of the CRISPR/dCas9 system in the functional genomics of crops and the development of traits will be briefly discussed.
Plants have evolved numerous constitutive and inducible defence mechanisms to cope with biotic and abiotic stresses. These stresses induce the expression of various genes to activate defence-related pathways that result in the release of defence chemicals. One of these defence mechanisms is the oxylipin pathway, which produces jasmonates, divinylethers and green leaf volatiles (GLVs) through the peroxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). GLVs have recently emerged as key players in plant defence, plant-plant interactions and plant-insect interactions. Some GLVs inhibit the growth and propagation of plant pathogens, including bacteria, viruses and fungi. In certain cases, GLVs released from plants under herbivore attack can serve as aerial messengers to neighbouring plants and to attract parasitic or parasitoid enemies of the herbivores. The plants that perceive these volatile signals are primed and can then adapt in preparation for the upcoming challenges. Due to their 'green note' odour, GLVs impart aromas and flavours to many natural foods, such as vegetables and fruits, and therefore, they can be exploited in industrial biotechnology. The aim of this study was to review the progress and recent developments in research on the oxylipin pathway, with a specific focus on the biosynthesis and biological functions of GLVs and their applications in industrial biotechnology.
Bacteria-derived enzymes that can modify specific lignin substructures are potential targets to engineer plants for better biomass processability. The Gram-negative bacterium Sphingobium sp. SYK-6 possesses a Cα-dehydrogenase (LigD) enzyme that has been shown to oxidize the α-hydroxy functionalities in β-O-4-linked dimers into α-keto analogues that are more chemically labile. Here, we show that recombinant LigD can oxidize an even wider range of β-O-4-linked dimers and oligomers, including the genuine dilignols, guaiacylglycerol-β-coniferyl alcohol ether and syringylglycerol-β-sinapyl alcohol ether. We explored the possibility of using LigD for biosynthetically engineering lignin by expressing the codon-optimized ligD gene in Arabidopsis thaliana. The ligD cDNA, with or without a signal peptide for apoplast targeting, has been successfully expressed, and LigD activity could be detected in the extracts of the transgenic plants. UPLC-MS/MS-based metabolite profiling indicated that levels of oxidized guaiacyl (G) β-O-4-coupled dilignols and analogues were significantly elevated in the LigD transgenic plants regardless of the signal peptide attachment to LigD. In parallel, 2D NMR analysis revealed a 2.1- to 2.8-fold increased level of G-type α-keto-β-O-4 linkages in cellulolytic enzyme lignins isolated from the stem cell walls of the LigD transgenic plants, indicating that the transformation was capable of altering lignin structure in the desired manner.
In the last 20 years, stem rust caused by the fungus Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritici (Pgt), has re-emerged as a major threat to wheat and barley production in Africa and Europe. In contrast to wheat with 60 designated stem rust (Sr) resistance genes, barley's genetic variation for stem rust resistance is very narrow with only ten resistance genes genetically identified. Of these, only one complex locus consisting of three genes is effective against TTKSK, a widely virulent Pgt race of the Ug99 tribe which emerged in Uganda in 1999 and has since spread to much of East Africa and parts of the Middle East. The objective of this study was to assess the functionality, in barley, of cloned wheat Sr genes effective against race TTKSK. Sr22, Sr33, Sr35 and Sr45 were transformed into barley cv. Golden Promise using Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. All four genes were found to confer effective stem rust resistance. The barley transgenics remained susceptible to the barley leaf rust pathogen Puccinia hordei, indicating that the resistance conferred by these wheat Sr genes was specific for Pgt. Furthermore, these transgenic plants did not display significant adverse agronomic effects in the absence of disease. Cloned Sr genes from wheat are therefore a potential source of resistance against wheat stem rust in barley.
Agriculture is now facing the 'perfect storm' of climate change, increasing costs of fertilizer and rising food demands from a larger and wealthier human population. These factors point to a global food deficit unless the efficiency and resilience of crop production is increased. The intensification of agriculture has focused on improving production under optimized conditions, with significant agronomic inputs. Furthermore, the intensive cultivation of a limited number of crops has drastically narrowed the number of plant species humans rely on. A new agricultural paradigm is required, reducing dependence on high inputs and increasing crop diversity, yield stability and environmental resilience. Genomics offers unprecedented opportunities to increase crop yield, quality and stability of production through advanced breeding strategies, enhancing the resilience of major crops to climate variability, and increasing the productivity and range of minor crops to diversify the food supply. Here we review the state of the art of genomic-assisted breeding for the most important staples that feed the world, and how to use and adapt such genomic tools to accelerate development of both major and minor crops with desired traits that enhance adaptation to, or mitigate the effects of climate change.