Turning plants into biological factories

Turning plants into biological factories

Plants aboard the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Genetic manipulation has come a long way.

Humans have been using genetic manipulation for thousands of years, long before we worked in lab coats. From cute dogs to edible fruitAnd Selective breeding It has long been used for cultivation the plants and highly valued animals.

These days, scientists are doing more precise genetic manipulations in laboratories. But the results weren’t always perfect. until recently, Genetic modification They can be a little heavy, and produce organisms that may thrive in a lab but not in real-world conditions.

the control

Professor Ryan Lister of the University of Western Australia co-authored a paper On how to engineer better plants through more complex gene editing.

“Organisms have complex programs that control when, where and to what degree genes are turned on or off,” says Ryan.

“We want to genetically modify plants with evolution equal to what normal evolution Achieve “.

These complex, naturally evolved control programs allow the plant to respond to its environment. For example, a plant may have naturally evolved a gene that is only “active” in conditions of high heat. If you can identify the natural genetic control program that causes that gene to turn on, you can recreate that control program in another part of the plant. In this example, that means you can engineer a plant to react to heat in a very specific way.

Credit: NASA via YouTube

climate resistance

Master this level of genetic manipulation It could give researchers greater control over the plants’ economic output. It could turn them into finely tuned biological factories that efficiently create high-value molecules or improve their response to harsh external influences such as pests and climate change.

The applications of this research are broad. In Australia, that could be a game-changer for agricultural sectorwho became increasingly exposed to harsh environmental conditions.

“When the weather becomes unpredictable, it destabilizes existing systems,” says Ryan.

Therefore, climate-resistant plants may have been an obvious application of the research findings.

How about growing plants in space? Can Ryan’s research help us do this?

space seeds

Ryan is part of a multinational university Research project It is called the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence in Space Plants. The project will look at how to engineer plants to thrive in extraterrestrial environments.

Credit: ABC News via YouTube

“As humans have spread across the world over the past millennia, we’ve taken plants with us. Plants support our civilization and enrich our lives and health,” says Ryan.

“Not to mention, they are incredibly versatile and efficient machines that can create an enormous variety of molecules and materials.”

If we establish colonies on the Moon or Mars, it will be difficult to bring in machines that make medicines or other materials. But if we can engineer plants to produce specific molecules on demand, all we need are seeds to grow those plants.

Back on Earth

Back on Earth, Ryan’s research could be applied to other things like vertical farming. The innovative farming practice is founded on tightly controlled environmental inputs.

“When we grow plants in an efficiently controlled indoor environment, we can achieve very high growth and yield with low nutrient and water use,” says Ryan.

“But these are very different environments from what plants evolved in, and they come with their own challenges. We aim to overcome them for greater productivity and diversity.”

Indoor farming can eliminate transportation challenges fresh produce From the remote farms where it is traditionally produced to the main points of demand and consumption. And for some countries with land constraints, this can be a real boon in overcoming the challenges of food sovereignty.”

There are many steps that need to be taken before we can grow genetically modified plants on Mars. But as anyone who has done some gardening knows, big things grow out of small things.

This article first appeared in particleScience news site based in SciTech, Perth, Australia. Read the The original article.

the quote: Turning Plants Into Biological Factories (2023, January 6) Retrieved January 6, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-01-biological-factories.html

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