via University of Chicago
Manipulating RNA can allow plants to yield dramatically more crops, as well as increasing drought tolerance, announced a group of scientists from the University of Chicago, Peking University and Guizhou University.
In initial tests, adding a gene encoding for a protein called FTO to both rice and potato plants increased their yield by 50% in field tests. The plants grew significantly larger, produced longer root systems and were better able to tolerate drought stress. Analysis also showed that the plants had increased their rate of photosynthesis.
“The change really is dramatic,” said University of Chicago Prof. Chuan He, who together with Prof. Guifang Jia at Peking University, led the research. “What’s more, it worked with almost every type of plant we tried it with so far, and it’s a very simple modification to make.”
The researchers are hopeful about the potential of this breakthrough, especially in the face of climate change and other pressures on crop systems worldwide.
“This really provides the possibility of engineering plants to potentially improve the ecosystem as global warming proceeds,” said He, who is the John T. Wilson Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “We rely on plants for many, many things—everything from wood, food, and medicine, to flowers and oil—and this potentially offers a way to increase the stock material we can get from most plants.”
Rice nudged along
For decades, scientists have been working to boost crop production in the face of an increasingly unstable climate and a growing global population. But such processes are usually complicated, and often result only in incremental changes.
The way this discovery came about was quite different.
Many of us remember RNA from high school biology, where we were taught that the RNA molecule reads DNA, then makes proteins to carry out tasks. But in 2011, He’s lab opened an entire new field of research by discovering the keys to a different way that genes are expressed in mammals. It turns out that RNA doesn’t simply read the DNA blueprint and carry it out blindly; the cell itself can also regulate which parts of the blueprint get expressed. It does so by placing chemical markers onto RNA to modulate which proteins are made and how many.
He and his colleagues immediately realized that this had major implications for biology. Since then, his team and others around the world have been trying to flesh out our understanding of the process and what it affects in animals, plants and different human diseases; for example, He is a co-founder of a biotech company now developing new anti-cancer medicines based on targeting RNA modification proteins.
He and Guifang Jia, a former UChicago postdoctoral researcher who is now an associate professor at Peking University, began to wonder how it affected plant biology.
They focused on a protein called FTO, the first known protein that erases chemical marks on RNA, which Jia found as a postdoctoral researcher in He’s group at UChicago. The scientists knew it worked on RNA to affect cell growth in humans and other animals, so they tried inserting the gene for it into rice plants—and then watched in amazement as the plants took off.
“I think right then was when all of us realized we were doing something special,” He said.
The rice plants grew three times more rice under laboratory conditions. When they tried it out in real field tests, the plants grew 50% more mass and yielded 50% more rice. They grew longer roots, photosynthesized more efficiently, and could better withstand stress from drought.
The scientists repeated the experiments with potato plants, which are part of a completely different family. The results were the same.
“That suggested a degree of universality that was extremely exciting,” He said.
It took the scientists longer to begin to understand how this was happening. Further experiments showed that FTO started working early in the plant’s development, boosting the total amount of biomass it produced.
The scientists think that FTO controls a process known as m6A, which is a key modification of RNA. In this scenario, FTO works by erasing m6A RNA to muffle some of the signals that tell plants to slow down and reduce growth. Imagine a road with lots of stoplights; if scientists cover up the red lights and leave the green, more and more cars can move along the road.
Overall, the modified plants produced significantly more RNA than control plants.
Modifying the process
The process described in this paper involves using an animal FTO gene in a plant. But once scientists fully understand this growth mechanism, He thinks there could be alternate ways to get the same effect.
“It seems that plants already have this layer of regulation, and all we did is tap into it,” He said. “So the next step would be to discover how to do it using the plant’s existing genetics.”
He can imagine all sorts of uses down the road—and he’s working with the university and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to explore the possibilities.
“Even beyond food, there are other consequences of climate change,” said He. “Perhaps we could engineer grasses in threatened areas that can withstand drought. Perhaps we could teach a tree in the Midwest to grow longer roots, so that it’s less likely to be toppled during strong storms. There are so many potential applications.”
Original Article: RNA Breakthrough Creates Crops That Can Grow 50% More Potatoes, Rice
The Latest Updates from Bing News & Google News
Go deeper with Bing News on:
Increasing crop yields
- Iowa primed for potentially ‘epic’ increase in stream pollution, researcher warns
The result was a more than 400% increase in the amount of nitrate detected in Iowa ... Nitrogen is a key nutrient for Iowa corn to ensure maximum crop yields. It often is added to fields with ...
- Iowa’s 2023 crop production held steady. But some drought-ridden counties suffered losses
New data, however, reveals localized disparities in crop yields that are likely due to drought impacts. Iowa’s average corn for grain yield increased from 200 to 201 bushels per acre from 2022 to 2023 ...
- Field trials reveal crushed rock boosts carbon removal and improves crop yields
Crushed rock can remove about 3–4 metric tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) per hectare per year and improve crop yields, results of a pioneering study have shown.
- Major Disasters and Severe Weather Caused Over $21 Billion in Crop Losses in 2023
AFBF has calculated crop and rangeland damage estimates since 2021 to provide a window into the impacts of natural disasters on domestic food production. This Market Intel updates total crop loss ...
- Field Trials Show Crushed Rock Enhances Carbon Removal and Improves Crop Yields
Crushed rock can remove around 3-4 tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) per hectare per year and improve crop yields, results of a pioneering study have shown. The four-year field trial in the ...
Go deeper with Google Headlines on:
Increasing crop yields
[google_news title=”” keyword=”increasing crop yields” num_posts=”5″ blurb_length=”0″ show_thumb=”left”]
Go deeper with Bing News on:
- Epigenetics Market Research Report 2023-2030: DNA Methylation and Oncology Applications At the Forefront of Advancements
Method (DNA Methylation, PCR, Chromatin Analysis, Histone, RNA Modification), Application (Oncology, Non-oncology) End User (Pharma, Academics, Hospitals) - Global Forecast to 2030" report has been ...
- The Role of RNA Modifications in Stress Granule Dynamics
The study found that a minor genetic modification, referred to as ac4C, plays a crucial role in helping cells. This modification aids in the formation of stress granules, which act as protective units ...
- Changing the future of medicine: How Brown is becoming a global hub for RNA research
The ambitious goal of the new Brown RNA Center is to untangle the mysteries of human RNA, which could be instrumental in preventing and developing treatments for a wide variety of complex diseases.
- Toward Sequencing and Mapping of RNA Modifications
One strategy cells use for regulation is modifying proteins, DNA, and RNA to control their structure, function, and stability. For years, research has focused on the reversible modifications to ...
- Discovery shows how cells defend themselves during stressful situations
A recent study by an international research team has unveiled an exciting discovery about how our cells defend themselves during stressful situations. The research, published in EMBO Reports, shows ...
Go deeper with Google Headlines on:
[google_news title=”” keyword=”RNA modification” num_posts=”5″ blurb_length=”0″ show_thumb=”left”]