A group of scientists at AgriGenome Labs in Kerala’s Kochi city has used the popular genome editing technology - CRISPR Cas9 - to change the colour of tomato to yellow and improve its traits. The breakthrough is important as it demonstrates that genome editing can be used in the country’s agricultural crops to improve traits without using the genetically modified organisms (GMO) technology.
This opens the door for crop improvement through minimal intervention technology. Most laboratories use colour change as the first trait in order to visually demonstrate to even the non-experts that the technology works, according to AgriGenome Labs.
The changes made through such genome editing are minimal and non-distinguishable that can help in fast incorporation of designed mutations. Such mutations could occur naturally, but it may take several years.
Ram Kaundinya, Secretary-General of Federation of Seed Industry of India, said that genome editing is a very good technology that can help tackle diseases in plants, increase the nutritional aspect and improve their shelf-life. AgriGenome Labs said research on genome editing is being done on bananas to improve the lycopene content, while C D Mayee, South Asia Biotechnology Centre President and renowned cotton scientist, said that genome editing is being tested to make bananas vitamin rich.
AgriGenome Labs’ yellow tomato contains a higher level of pro-lycopene, the precursor to antioxidant lycopene, that has more health benefits than the red one. The CRISPR Cas9 technology, developed by Nobel prize winners in chemistry Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, is a technique in molecular biology through which genomes of living organisms can be modified. Ca9 is a bacterial enzyme.
The Kochi team of scientists achieved the breakthrough by editing the gene that codes for CRTISO, an enzyme responsible for making the red pigment lycopene (all trans-lycopene). The scientists have also shown that the CRISTO gene expression can be altered by editing the regulatory regions upstream of the gene.
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