Emerging Genome Engineering Tools in Crop Research and Breeding


Bilichak, A., D. Gaudet, and J. Laurie, Emerging Genome Engineering Tools in Crop Research and Breeding, in Cereal Genomics: Methods and Protocols, L.M. Vaschetto, Editor. 2020, Springer US: New York, NY. p. 165-181.

Plain language summary

In this review book chapter, we summarize advances in gene editing in plants.


Recent advances in genome engineering are revolutionizing crop research and plant breeding. The ability to make specific modifications to a plant’s genetic material creates opportunities for rapid development of elite cultivars with desired traits. The plant genome can be altered in several ways, including targeted introduction of nucleotide changes, deleting DNA segments, introducing exogenous DNA fragments and epigenetic modifications. Targeted changes are mediated by sequence specific nucleases (SSNs), such as zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs), transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), and CRISPR (clustered regularly interspersed short palindromic repeats)-Cas (CRISPR associated protein) systems. Recent advances in engineering chimeric Cas nucleases fused to base editing enzymes permit for even greater precision in base editing and control over gene expression. In addition to gene editing technologies, improvement in delivery systems of exogenous DNA into plant cells have increased the rate of successful gene editing events. Regeneration of fertile plants containing the desired edits remains challenging; however, manipulation of embryogenesis-related genes such as BABY BOOM (BBM) has been shown to facilitate regeneration through tissue culture, often a major hurdle in recalcitrant cultivars. Epigenome reprogramming for improved crop performance is another possibility for future breeders, with recent studies on MutS HOMOLOG 1 (MSH1) demonstrating epigenetic-dependent hybrid vigor in several crops. While these technologies offer plant breeders new tools in creating high yielding, better adapted crop varieties, constantly evolving government policy regarding the cultivation of plants containing transgenes may impede the widespread adoption of some of these techniques. This chapter summarizes advances in genome editing tools and discusses the future of these techniques for crop improvement.