Introducing multiple genes to potatoes to fight late blight

Global - genetics TD Farm
TECHNOLOGY: Gene technology to fight late blight. (Photo: JR Simplot)

LATE blight of Irish famine infamy could become a thing of the past with new technology developed by US Agricultural Research Service scientists.

They’ve found a way to streamline the process that scientists use to insert multiple genes into a crop plant, developing a reliable method that will make it easier to breed a variety of crops with vastly improved traits.

The gene stacking technology called GAANTRY is almost an acronym for Gene Assembly in Agrobacterium by Nucleic acid Transfer using Recombinase technology. The name was inspired by an analogy to the gantry cranes used for loading cargo onto container ships.

GAANTRY will be freely available.

Already global potato giant JR Simplot Co is planning to use it to introduce multiple genes into potatoes to make them more resistant to late blight.

Late blight can destroy entire fields and force farmers to spray fungicides up to 15 times a year.

“We have struggled to put multiple late blight resistance genes into potatoes for years,” Simplot research and development director Craig Richael says.

“They are very long, complex genes, and with existing technologies it’s been extremely difficult. The GAANTRY technology will help us tremendously.”

The technology is also expected to speed up the process for developing new varieties of potatoes, rice, citrus and other crops better equipped to tolerate heat and drought, produce higher yields and resist a myriad of diseases and pests.

“We now can insert not just one or two genes, but multiple genes, into a plant in a way that will lead to predictable outcomes,” ARS molecular biologist Roger Thilmony says.

Scientists have modified the genetics of soybeans, corn, canola and other crop plants to develop varieties that tolerate specific herbicides and resist insect pests. But those traits are controlled by one or two genes.

In most crop plants, important traits such as cold and drought tolerance, yield and seed production are almost always controlled by multiple genes.

Inserting more than two or three genes into the same site on a plant chromosome has been notoriously difficult.

The new platform stabilises large “stacks” of DNA needed for conferring key traits, allowing researchers to insert suites of genes “so precisely that no unintended DNA is added or lost during the process,” ARS geneticist James Thomson says.

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