Arboretum News

Gene-editing Plant Research

Matt Clark, a University of Minnesota assistant professor of grape breeding and enology, who works at the Arboretum's Horticultural Research Center, recently contributed to a paper published in Nature Biotechnology.

Matt Clark (far right) planting grape vines in the Horticultural Research Center vineyard last June; photo by Chris McNamara.

Matt Clark, a University of Minnesota assistant professor of grape breeding and enology, who works at the Arboretum’s Horticultural Research Center, recently contributed to a paper published in Nature Biotechnology that highlights new methods of producing gene-edited plants. 

The new methods will allow researchers to produce gene-edited plants significantly faster without the need of a sterile lab. “This paper describes new techniques to induce plants to grow meristems (shoots) from tissues other than preformed nodes (or buds),” Clark says. “Essentially, the approach takes advantage of the ability of plant cells to be coerced to grow into new specialized tissues. Why is this important? Many gene editing techniques require coercing a mass of plant cells in tissue culture to grow into new plants. This is restrictive as each species and sometimes varieties have their own protocols and may not work at all.”

Grape cuttings made from shoot tips and grown on a nutrient media similar to what was used in the experiment for Nature Biotechnology; photo by Matt Clark.

Tell us about the research/work you contributed to the paper published in Nature Biotechnology.

I provided expertise on growing grapevines in the greenhouse, as well as in sterile culture, and led discussions on techniques to get the desired outcomes. 

What kind of impact does this research have on plant gene editing?

Gene editing techniques continue to advance and become more targeted. This new protocol may allow for gene-editing experiments on species/varieties of plants that are more difficult to work with in tissue culture or may not be able to grow in tissue culture. 

The technique makes available many new opportunities for testing gene editing. Gene editing typically is used for testing gene function in research labs, which is why my lab is excited about using the approach. Our work aims to identify genes controlling important traits in grape. By editing these genes we can test these hypotheses.

How will this impact your research on grapes?

This project has created new collaborations and will allow us to test the functionality of ‘candidate genes.’ Many of our efforts in the breeding program are to ‘get close’ to the genes of interest and develop markers that represent the genes. 

We use the markers to help making breeding decisions, such as killing young plants because they don’t carry the right form of the gene. This paper sets the stage for us to be able to test the genes in the genomic regions that we are mapping. This means we can be more precise with the markers that we develop. It also will allow us to understand plant biology and molecular biology of the traits. The more we learn about how plants work allows us to think critically and plan for meeting consumer and environmental roles that plants have in our world.

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