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Journal: Plant cell reports


Mosses have high contents of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Tissue-specific differences in fatty acid contents and fatty acid desaturase (FADS)-encoding gene expression exist. The arachidonic acid-synthesizing FADS operate in the ER. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are important cellular compounds with manifold biological functions. Many PUFAs are essential for the human diet and beneficial for human health. In this study, we report on the high amounts of very long-chain (vl) PUFAs (≥C20) such as arachidonic acid (AA) in seven moss species. These species were established in axenic in vitro culture, as a prerequisite for comparative metabolic studies under highly standardized laboratory conditions. In the model organism Physcomitrella patens, tissue-specific differences in the fatty acid compositions between the filamentous protonema and the leafy gametophores were observed. These metabolic differences correspond with differential gene expression of fatty acid desaturase (FADS)-encoding genes in both developmental stages, as determined via microarray analyses. Depending on the developmental stage and the species, AA amounts for 6-31 %, respectively, of the total fatty acids. Subcellular localization of the corresponding FADS revealed the endoplasmic reticulum as the cellular compartment for AA synthesis. Our results show that vlPUFAs are highly abundant metabolites in mosses. Standardized cultivation techniques using photobioreactors along with the availability of the P. patens genome sequence and the high rate of homologous recombination are the basis for targeted metabolic engineering in moss. The potential of producing vlPUFAs of interest from mosses will be highlighted as a promising area in plant biotechnology.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Nutrition, Fatty acids, Organism, Essential fatty acid, Moss


The CRISPR/Cas technology has recently become the tool of choice for targeted genome modification in plants and beyond. Although CRSIPR/Cas offers a rapid and facile way of introducing changes at genomic loci of interest, its application is associated with off-targeting, i.e. introduction of unintended mutations at off-target sites within the genome, which has been reported frequently in the mammalian field. Here we summarise the current knowledge on the precision of CRISPR/Cas in plant systems and provide a summary of state-of the-art strategies for avoiding off-target mutations, as well as unintended on-target changes, in plants. These include using natural (e.g. Cas12a) or engineered (e.g. SpCas9-HF) CRISPR/Cas nucleases characterised by higher precision, as compared to the commonly used wild type SpCas9. In addition, we discuss the usage of CRISPR/Cas nucleases in the form of ribonucleoproteins (RNPs) as an option for reducing off-targeting in plants. Finally, we conclude that the most important factor for reducing CRISPR/Cas off-targeting remains careful selection of target sequences, for which we provide an overview of available online software tools and experimental guidance.


The rapid assessment of metabolic engineering strategies in plants is aided by crops that provide simple, high throughput transformation systems, a sequenced genome, and the ability to evaluate the resulting plants in field trials. Camelina sativa provides all of these attributes in a robust oilseed platform. The ability to perform field evaluation of Camelina is a useful, and in some studies essential benefit that allows researchers to evaluate how traits perform outside the strictly controlled conditions of a greenhouse. In the field the plants are subjected to higher light intensities, seasonal diurnal variations in temperature and light, competition for nutrients, and watering regimes dictated by natural weather patterns, all which may affect trait performance. There are difficulties associated with the use of Camelina. The current genetic resources available for Camelina pale in comparison to those developed for the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana; however, the sequence similarity of the Arabidopsis and Camelina genomes often allows the use of Arabidopsis as a reference when additional information is needed. Camelina’s genome, an allohexaploid, is more complex than other model crops, but the diploid inheritance of its three subgenomes is straightforward. The need to navigate three copies of each gene in genome editing or mutagenesis experiments adds some complexity but also provides advantages for gene dosage experiments. The ability to quickly engineer Camelina with novel traits, advance generations, and bulk up homozygous lines for small-scale field tests in less than a year, in our opinion, far outweighs the complexities associated with the crop.


During three decades the moss Physcomitrella patens has been developed to a superb green cell factory with the first commercial products on the market. In the past three decades the moss P. patens has been developed from an obscure bryophyte to a model organism in basic biology, biotechnology, and synthetic biology. Some of the key features of this system include a wide range of Omics technologies, precise genome-engineering via homologous recombination with yeast-like efficiency, a certified good-manufacturing-practice production in bioreactors, successful upscaling to 500 L wave reactors, excellent homogeneity of protein products, superb product stability from batch-to-batch, and a reliable procedure for cryopreservation of cell lines in a master cell bank. About a dozen human proteins are being produced in P. patens as potential biopharmaceuticals, some of them are not only similar to their animal-produced counterparts, but are real biobetters with superior performance. A moss-made pharmaceutical successfully passed phase 1 clinical trials, a fragrant moss, and a cosmetic moss-product is already on the market, highlighting the economic potential of this synthetic biology chassis. Here, we focus on the features of mosses as versatile cell factories for synthetic biology and their impact on metabolic engineering.


Tomato has a relatively short growth cycle (fruit ready to pick within 65-85 days from planting) and a relatively high yield (the average for globe tomatoes is 3-9 kg fruit per plant rising to as much as 40 kg fruit per plant). Tomatoes also produce large amounts of important primary and secondary metabolites which can serve as intermediates or substrates for producing valuable new compounds. As a model crop, tomato already has a broad range of tools and resources available for biotechnological applications, either increased nutrients for health-promoting biofortified foods or as a production system for high-value compounds. These advantages make tomato an excellent chassis for the production of important metabolites. We summarize recent achievements in metabolic engineering of tomato and suggest new candidate metabolites which could be targets for metabolic engineering. We offer a scheme for how to establish tomato as a chassis for industrial-scale production of high-value metabolites.

Concepts: Metabolism, Plant, Annual plant, Fruit, Tomato, Vegetable, Eggplant, Berry


Here, we show that Au SINE elements have strong associations with protein-coding genes in wheat. Most importantly Au SINE insertion within introns causes allelic variation and might induce intron retention. The impact of transposable elements (TEs) on genome structure and function is intensively studied in eukaryotes, especially in plants where TEs can reach up to 90% of the genome in some cases, such as in wheat. Here, we have performed a genome-wide in-silico analysis using the updated publicly available genome draft of bread wheat (T. aestivum), in addition to the updated genome drafts of the diploid donor species, T. urartu and Ae. tauschii, to retrieve and analyze a non-LTR retrotransposon family, termed Au SINE, which was found to be widespread in plant species. Then, we have performed site-specific PCR and realtime RT-PCR analyses to assess the possible impact of Au SINE on gene structure and function. To this end, we retrieved 133, 180 and 1886 intact Au SINE insertions from T. urartu, Ae. tauschii and T. aestivum genome drafts, respectively. The 1886 Au SINE insertions were distributed in the seven homoeologous chromosomes of T. aestivum, while ~ 67% of the insertions were associated with genes. Detailed analysis of 40 genes harboring Au SINE revealed allelic variation of those genes in the Triticum-Aegilops genus. In addition, expression analysis revealed that both regular transcripts and alternative Au SINE-containing transcripts were simultaneously amplified in the same tissue, indicating retention of Au SINE-containing introns. Analysis of the wheat transcriptome revealed that hundreds of protein-coding genes harbor Au SINE in at least one of their mature splice variants. Au SINE might play a prominent role in speciation by creating transcriptome variation.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Evolution, Organism, RNA, Species


Altered starch quality with full knockout of GBSS gene function in potato was achieved using CRISPR-Cas9 technology, through transient transfection and regeneration from isolated protoplasts. Site-directed mutagenesis (SDM) has shown great progress in introducing precisely targeted mutations. Engineered CRISPR-Cas9 has received increased focus compared to other SDM techniques, since the method is easily adapted to different targets. Here, we demonstrate that transient application of CRISPR-Cas9-mediated genome editing in protoplasts of tetraploid potato (Solanum tuberosum) yielded mutations in all four alleles in a single transfection, in up to 2 % of regenerated lines. Three different regions of the gene encoding granule-bound starch synthase (GBSS) were targeted under different experimental setups, resulting in mutations in at least one allele in 2-12 % of regenerated shoots, with multiple alleles mutated in up to 67 % of confirmed mutated lines. Most mutations resulted in small indels of 1-10 bp, but also vector DNA inserts of 34-236 bp were found in 10 % of analysed lines. No mutations were found in an allele diverging one bp from a used guide sequence, verifying similar results found in other plants that high homology between guide sequence and target region near the protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) site is essential. To meet the challenge of screening large numbers of lines, a PCR-based high-resolution fragment analysis method (HRFA) was used, enabling identification of multiple mutated alleles with a resolution limit of 1 bp. Full knockout of GBSS enzyme activity was confirmed in four-allele mutated lines by phenotypic studies of starch. One remaining wild-type (WT) allele was shown sufficient to maintain enough GBSS enzyme activity to produce significant amounts of amylose.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Genotype, Allele, Evolution, Starch


New tools for the precise modification of crops genes are now available for the engineering of new ideotypes. A future challenge in this emerging field of genome engineering is to develop efficient methods for allele mining. Genome engineering tools are now available in plants, including major crops, to modify in a predictable manner a given gene. These new techniques have a tremendous potential for a spectacular acceleration of the plant breeding process. Here, we discuss how genetic diversity has always been the raw material for breeders and how they have always taken advantage of the best available science to use, and when possible, increase, this genetic diversity. We will present why the advent of these new techniques gives to the breeders extremely powerful tools for crop breeding, but also why this will require the breeders and researchers to characterize the genes underlying this genetic diversity more precisely. Tackling these challenges should permit the engineering of optimized alleles assortments in an unprecedented and controlled way.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genotype, Allele, Evolution, Organism, Virus


The increasing burden of the world population on agriculture requires the development of more robust crops. Dissecting the basic biology that underlies plant development and stress responses will inform the design of better crops. One powerful tool for studying plants at the molecular level is the RNA-programmed genome editing system composed of a clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-encoded guide RNA and the nuclease Cas9. Here, some of the recent advances in CRISPR/Cas9 technology that have profound implications for improving the study of plant biology are described. These tools are also paving the way towards new horizons for biotechnologies and crop development.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Agriculture, Molecular biology, Biology, Plant, Botany, Fruit


One of the major problems regarding consumer acceptance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is the possibility that their transgenes could have adverse effects on the environment and/or human health. Genome editing, represented by the CRISPR/Cas9 system, can efficiently achieve transgene-free gene modifications and is anticipated to generate a wide spectrum of plants. However, the public attitude against GMOs suggests that people will initially be unlikely to accept these plants. We herein explored the bottlenecks of consumer acceptance of transgene-free food crops developed by genome editing and made some recommendations. People should not pursue a zero-risk bias regarding such crops. Developers are encouraged to produce cultivars with a trait that would satisfy consumer needs. Moreover, they should carefully investigate off-target mutations in resultant plants and initially refrain from agricultural use of multiplex genome editing for better risk-benefit communication. The government must consider their regulatory status and establish appropriate regulations if necessary. The government also should foster communication between the public and developers. If people are informed of the benefits of genome editing-mediated plant breeding and trust in the relevant regulations, and if careful risk-benefit communication and sincere considerations for the right to know approach are guaranteed, then such transgene-free crops could gradually be integrated into society.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Agriculture, Organism, Horizontal gene transfer, Genetically modified organism, Genetically modified food