Researchers increase diversity in plants by reactivating dormant genes

photo of men with plants

JordanJi.jpgA new breeding technique using a plant's own DNA could produce crops that are more resistant to drought and disease:

A team of University of Georgia researchers has developed a new way to breed plants with better traits. By introducing a human protein into the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana, researchers found that they could selectively activate silenced genes already present within the plant.

Using this method to increase diversity among plant populations could serve to create varieties that are able to withstand drought or disease in crops or other plant populations, and the researchers have already begun testing the technique on maize, soy and rice.

They published their findings in Nature Communications.

The research project was led by Lexiang Ji, a doctoral student in bioinformatics, and William Jordan, a doctoral student in genetics. The new method they explored, known as epimutagenesis, will make it possible to breed diverse plants in a way that isn’t possible with traditional techniques.

“In the past this has been done with traditional breeding. You take a plant, breed it with another plant that has another characteristic you want to create another plant,” said Jordan. “The problem with that is getting an individual that has all of the characteristics you want and none of the characteristics that you don’t want. It’s kind of difficult. With our new technique, you can modify how the genes are turned on and off in that plant without having to introduce a whole other set of genes from another parent.”

Extraordinary and novel new results from graduate students working with genetics professor Robert Schmitz, who is inspiring great work from his team. Congratulations to Ji, Jordan and Schmitz on this important and prestigious publication.

Image: William Jordan (left) and Lexiang Ji look over one of many sets of Arabidopsis thaliana, which were used to research a new plant breeding technique.