Using Gene Scissors To Target Certain Cell Types For Elimination

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Genetic information in a plant can be edited using the CRISPR/Cas molecular scissors to make it more resistant to pests, illnesses, or extreme climatic circumstances. Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) researchers have improved this method by removing the entire DNA of select cell types, preventing their synthesis during plant development. This will also aid scientists in better understanding plant development pathways.

Plants’ DNA — the transporter of genetic information — may be changed using molecular scissors. The CRISPR/Cas technology, which Professor Holger Puchta, a molecular biologist at KIT’s Botanical Institute, co-developed in plants, has already been used to specifically insert, swap, or combine genes. The goal is to improve the plant’s resilience to illnesses and the effects of the environment. CRISPR/Cas (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) are molecular scissors that can recognize and cut DNA sequences with pinpoint accuracy. “For the past 30 years, we’ve been researching molecular scissors for plant application. Initially, we used them to change the expression of individual genes. We were the first in the world to rearrange whole chromosomes two years ago “Puchta explains. The European Research Council awarded the pioneer of genome editing two Advanced Grants for his work (ERC). “This method was possible to be improved. We’ve reached a whole new level of progress with CRISPR-Kill: we can now kill specific plant cell types and block the production of specific plant parts.”

Using CRISPR-Kill to Kill Secondary Roots and Petals
The scientists focused their research on the secondary roots and petals of the model plant tale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). “These are classic biological examples. We now have a better understanding of the genetic programmed and cell types involved in the creation of these plant organs “explains the molecular biologist CRISPR-Kill plants did not produce any petals or additional roots when these cells were removed, but control plants grew normally.

CRISPR-Kill, unlike other approaches that use cytotoxins or laser radiation to kill cells, causes numerous cuts in the genome. A genome is made up of a set of chromosomes on which the individual genes are organized in a specific order. “Until now, CRISPR/Cas has only targeted one spot and cut once or twice to change a gene or chromosome,” Puchta explains. “Now our molecular scissors have been reprogrammed.” They no longer address the genomic DNA only once, but instead look for a sequence that occurs frequently in the genome and is required for the cell’s survival in the corresponding cell type. Many cuts are caused at the same time in this manner, much too many for the cell to mend. The prison cell will die.

Better Understanding Development Processes in Plants
The KIT researchers’ work falls under the category of fundamental research. “We can learn more about plant development by looking at what happens when a specific cell type is removed. What is the plant’s reaction? How adaptable is the plant as it grows? Can we, for example, eliminate sections of plants that aren’t needed in agriculture? “Puchta continues. In the long run, this approach may benefit food production and pharmaceutical applications by preventing the plant from producing cells that create poisons, for example. Furthermore, the method could be used to modify specific tissues in multicellular creatures.

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