Unraveling the genetic basis of development
While the plant genome sequences of several agronomically important species have been revealed, there is still a great deal to learn about the regulatory part of the genome and its role in growth and development, says Zoe Hilioti, researcher of the Institute of Applied Biosciences of CERTH. Hilioti’s research is focusing on developing targeted genome engineering approaches that will identify the role of key regulatory genes such as transcription factors on plant development. “We know there are transcription factors within the genome that regulate a multitude of genes but we don’t have a full understanding of the effect of these genes,” Hilioti says. “Yet, plants are unique development models in that they offer full body phenotypes, so a targeted change in the genome, as nature creates often, may lead to useful genetic variability for the survival and performance of plants. Think of cauliflower and broccoli or the hairless peach”. Hilioti’s goal is to bridge the gap between the basic and applied research in plants and find genes that can be exploited agronomically. “We know that plants have dynamic genomes with expanded gene families that facilitate adaptation to a new environment but is difficult to understand the role of each gene with existing methods,” she says. “Targeted genome engineering approaches have been developed the last few years as powerful tools to modify the genetic codon in targeted site and help us understand the way a gene works. Conventional cross-breeding of plants is based on the same principle but it takes about 7 to 9 plant generations until the development of an elite cultivar. With the targeted genome engineering technology a ‘fixed phenotype’ can be created within 3 plant generations. A great advantage of the new technology is that the resulting plants do not contain ‘foreign’ DNA, so they are not GMO”. Results of this work have been presented in the 7th European Plant Science Organization Conference (September, 2013).
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