Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chromatin Demonstrates "Mini-Chromosome Gene Stacking" in Sugar Cane


Chromatin's mini-chromosome gene stacking technology promises to give bioenergy crop engineers the ability to optimise multiple desirable plant traits simultaneously.
Developers...want to insert genes that offer improvements in multiple traits – when an organism has more than one gene inserted in this process – for example, for disease resistance, insect resistance, herbicide resistance – this is called a gene stack. In 2007, for example, Monsanto and Dow introduced an eight-gene stack (SmartStax) that contained eight herbicide tolerance and insect-protection genes, including Dow’s Herculex I and Herculex RW; Monsanto’s YieldGard VT Rootworm/RR2 and YieldGard VT PRO, Roundup Ready and Liberty Link tolerance genes.

Gene stacking, thereby, is foundational in the drive for higher productivity from land crops.

You can stack in one of two ways. First, the traits are inserted, one each into one varietals. Then the varietals are cross-bred in the traditional manner so that they transfer the genes, eventually, into the target. That’s how Monsanto and Dow came up with SmartSTax.

The Chromatin process

The other way is to insert them all at one time into one varietal.
The company developed a proprietary gene stacking technology, which can be used to simultaneously, and precisely introduce multiple genes in any plant, bypassing the cross-breeding process.

... let’s say you wanted to introduce several genes, not just one – for example, insect resistance, herbicide resistance, disease resistance, higher sugar concentrations, and enzymes to enable better bagasse digestion. If you could do it at all in cane – and it would be a monumental, unprecedented achievement in cross-breeding, it would take, say 13 years or so to accomplish it. It has made changes at this level uneconomical.

So that’s what the Chromatin breakthrough is all about. Creating a method to bring the sort of possibilities that have materially advanced yields in, say, corn and soy, to a whole new array of energy and food crops. Opening up the door for more rapid improvement of the underlying per-acre yields.

...Cross breeding has been the platform technique for a 500 percent improvement in corn yields, over 100 years. That’s a long, long time, but it shows the kind of fundamental change possible. Without cross-breeding, the world would in all probability starved to death long ago – or rather, stalled in its industrial development as simply too many hands, and too much acreage, would have been needed on the farm.

Meanwhile, there are energy grasses, woods and aquatic species that have hardly been touched by cross-breeding or genetic improvement – and already in their wild state have had promising results in terms of productivity for biofuels. SG is just getting a leash on jatropha; companies like Sapphire Energy are just undertaking the first large-scale improvement programs for algae.

But doing so at the lowest possible cost, and the highest possible speed, is the surest road to the kinds of productivities that provide food, feed and fuel for all. This is an advance in science with game-changing characteristics across a host of energy crops. _BiofuelsDigest

Chromatin website

The technology as described sounds very exciting. Not having seen any of the research data, I cannot vouch for any of the claims. Genes require entire arrays of nuclear and cellular proteins for transcription and translation into structural proteins and enzymes. A highly intricate regulatory mechanism is involved in order to effectively utilise any gene -- artificial or natural. One cannot simply throw genes willy nilly into plant or animal cells and expect them to work as you wish.

On the other hand, if a research group were able to manipulate the mechanisms of gene expression in desired ways, so as to make best use of artificial "gene stack chromosomes," the possibilities would be enormous.

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