UK-English scientists have employed gene-editing techniques to pinpoint a vital gene, potentially safeguarding wheat fertility and enhancing yields, crucial in mitigating the mounting threats of climate change.

Conducted at the John Innes Centre (JIC) and spearheaded by Professor Graham Moore, the research identified the wheat gene DMC1 as a key player in the plant’s reproductive process, specifically during meiosis. In this critical stage, chromosomes pair up to form seeds.

The efficiency of meiosis in wheat is heavily influenced by temperature. Wheat functions optimally at temperatures between 17-23 degrees centigrade, but struggles in both high and low temperatures. 

To understand the gene’s role, the research team deleted the DMC1 gene from Chinese Spring Wheat, leading to controlled experiments.

After approximately one week, the gene-edited mutant plants showed significant effects when grown at 13 degrees, with 95% displaying a decrease in crossover number. 

Similarly, wheat plants grown at 30 degrees also exhibited fewer crossovers than control plants, confirming DMC1’s role in preserving meiotic crossovers across a range of temperatures.

Given the impact on grain yield, the research holds crucial implications for wheat breeders facing the challenges of climate change. 

Professor Moore stated, “Thanks to gene editing, we have isolated a key temperature tolerance gene in wheat. It provides cause for optimism in finding valuable new traits at a time when climate change is challenging the way we grow our major crops.”

The study builds on Professor Moore’s earlier research on the ZIP4 gene, using gene editing to maintain yields and introduce beneficial traits from wheat’s wild relatives, enhancing genetic diversity.

Identifying genetic factors that stabilize wheat fertility in non-optimal temperatures is vital for producing climate-resilient crops. Dr. Jonathan Clarke, head of business development at JIC, highlighted the unique capability of genetic variation to contribute to wheat improvement, emphasizing the precision offered by gene editing in altering crop DNA and enhancing breeding efficiency.

The Genetic Technology Bill (Precision Breeding) received Royal Assent in England last year, supporting the development of foods with enhanced nutritional value and increased crop resilience. 

Dr. Clarke noted that the bill allows closer collaboration with food producers to address complex issues and capitalize on the UK’s research expertise.

In line with global developments, European leaders introduced a legislative package aimed at ensuring the resilience of sustainably farmed food. This shift includes debates on regulatory oversight concerning “new genomic techniques,” aligning with changes observed in the UK.

In related news, German biotechnology and pharmaceutical company Bayer partnered with gene-editing company Pairwise to develop a new generation of short-stature crops in September 2023. 

This innovation reduces plant height by 30% to 40%, enhancing resistance to extreme weather and facilitating precise input application, contributing to more sustainable and resilient farming practices.

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