Seminar: Engineering plants

Written by: Karmella Haynes. Today, Steve Evans from Dow AgroSciences discussed genetic engineering of plants, current technologies, and areas for improvement.

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Steve began with a review of policies around environmental protection and engineered organisms. His vignette described the fate of a microbe that had been engineered to produce insecticides to protect plants. EPA restrictions have have greatly impeded this type of application for fear that genetically modified microbes may easily spread in the environment.

An alternative to to modify the genome of the plant itself. Gene Stacking is a cutting-edge approach for adding new genetic information to agricultural plants like corn. It is a recursive process where sets of genes can be added into a single locus in a linear manner. Currently this relies heavily in synthetic Zinc-finger nucleases.

Steve concluded with a call to action for new technologies that synthetic biology could develop in order to aid plant genetic engineering. First, new technologies are needed to speed up the design-test-build pipeline. Currently, the pipeline typically lasts 7-12 years or so and requires several million dollars. Also, genotyping and genomics tools need to be faster and more efficient so that engineers can better understand the genome of the specific plant they are working with.

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