Researchers engineered soybean plants by epigenetic reprogramming of existing genes to produce more vigorous, resilient, and productive plants.
Researchers temporarily silenced the expression of a critical gene of soybean plant that was responsible to counter stress and danger. The researchers studied soybean genes for over a decade, to reprogram the existing genes. The findings were reported in Plant Biotechnology Journal in November 2018 issue.
Sally Mackenzie, professor in the departments of Biology and Plant Science at Penn State, said: “This epigenetic reprogramming of soybean plants, the culmination of a decade-long study, was accomplished not by introducing any new genes but by changing how existing genes are expressed. That is important because it portends how crop yields and tolerance for conditions such as drought and extreme heat will be enhanced in the future.”
The researchers focused on MSH1 gene, which is present in all plants and when the gene is down regulated or turned off, the plant assumes that it is under multiple stresses, though it might not be the case. In order to counter the stress mechanism, the plant amplifies the expression of a network of genes to fight drought, extreme cold, heat, and others.
The researchers observed that the seeds when crossed with the original soybean plant retained in memory about the previous stresses, thus blooms to provide better quality seed generation after generation. By simply changing the expression of genes, the researchers observed that the yield increased by 13-14 percent.
“What it means is that we can take our very best crop varieties and possibly get more out of them and make them more resilient with a fairly straightforward manipulation,” added Mackenzie.