• Otávio Santiago

First CRISPR-Based Gene Drive Developed in Plants

Gene drives have been established in insects, including fruit flies and mosquitoes, and mammals such as mice. Now, for the first time, the CRISPR-Cas9-based technology that disrupts Mendelian inheritance and allows for selective acquisition of target genes has been developed in plants. Establishing this genome editing technology in plants may allow for breeding resilient crops that are better able to withstand drought and disease.

The research is published in Nature Communications in the paper, “Selective inheritance of target genes from only one parent of sexually reproduced F1 progeny in Arabidopsis.”

“This work defies the genetic constraints of sexual reproduction that an offspring inherits 50% of their genetic materials from each parent,” said Yunde Zhao, PhD, professor of cell and developmental biology at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). “This work enables inheritance of both copies of the desired genes from only a single parent. The findings can greatly reduce the generations needed for plant breeding.”

CRISPR-Cas9-based gene drives that can generate biased transmission of a preferred allele, and convert heterozygotes to homozygotes, has been achieved in insects and mice. However, the lack of efficient homology-directed repair (HDR) of double stranded breaks (DSBs) in DNA has been a barrier to establishing the system in plants. In plants, Non-Homologous End Joining (NHEJ) is the favored pathway for repairing DSBs.

To get around this, members of Zhao’s lab led by Tao Zhang, PhD, and Michael Mudgett—a postdoc and graduate student respectively—created a strategy to control the timing of DSB generation by using specific promoters to drive Cas9 expression.

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