Boosting Tomato Plant Growth with CRISPR Technology

Jim Crocker
3rd April, 2024

Boosting Tomato Plant Growth with CRISPR Technology

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Scientists at Cinvestav used CRISPRa to turn on a gene in Micro-Tom tomatoes, enhancing plant traits
  • The technique led to the creation of whole plants from non-reproductive tissues, aiding plant breeding
  • This method could lead to crops that better withstand environmental stresses, securing food sources
In the quest to feed a growing global population, scientists are constantly seeking innovative methods to enhance crop yields and resilience. One such breakthrough involves the use of genome editing technologies to improve plant characteristics. A recent study[1] conducted by researchers at Cinvestav has made significant strides in this field by focusing on the tomato plant, specifically the Micro-Tom cultivar. This research could be a game-changer for agriculture, offering a glimpse into the future of crop improvement through epigenetic modification. Tomatoes are a staple in diets worldwide and serve as a model organism for studying fleshy fruits. The Micro-Tom tomato, in particular, is favored for research due to its rapid growth cycle and diminutive stature, which allows for high-density cultivation. The Cinvestav study leverages these characteristics, employing a novel approach to modify the genetic expression of a gene called SlWRKY29 in the tomato plant. This is achieved through a technique called CRISPR-activation (CRISPRa), which differs from traditional CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing that cuts DNA to create mutations. Instead, CRISPRa turns genes on without altering the DNA sequence itself[2]. To understand the significance of this study, it's essential to grasp the concept of epigenetics. Unlike genetic changes that involve alterations to the DNA sequence, epigenetic changes affect gene activity without changing the underlying DNA[3]. These changes can be passed on as cells divide and can influence plant development and response to environmental stresses. Epigenetic modifications, such as DNA methylation and histone modification, play a crucial role in regulating gene expression[3]. In the Cinvestav study, researchers used CRISPRa to induce an epigenetic change, specifically increasing the H3K4me3 mark—a chemical tag associated with active gene expression—on the SlWRKY29 gene. This modification created a more transcriptionally permissive chromatin state, meaning the gene was more likely to be turned on and actively transcribed into RNA. The researchers developed an indirect somatic embryo protocol from cotyledonary explants, which are essentially small sections of the seed leaf tissue. This protocol is significant because it allows for the generation of whole plants from non-reproductive tissues—a process that could be incredibly beneficial in plant breeding. By applying CRISPRa to these explants, the team was able to drive the induction of somatic embryos, which are embryos formed from somatic or non-sex cells. This is a key step in plant tissue culture and regeneration. The study's findings highlight how the transcriptional effector used in CRISPRa, along with the composition of the growth medium and environmental conditions, can influence the induction and maturation of somatic embryos. These insights are critical for developing more efficient methods for plant transformation and regeneration, which have traditionally been hindered by genotype dependency and low effectiveness in various plant species. This research builds upon earlier discoveries like the identification of CRISPR sequences in bacteria and archaea[4], which laid the foundation for genome editing. The evolution from merely recognizing these sequences to manipulating them for plant improvement underscores the rapid advancement in this field. Furthermore, it aligns with the concept of engineering epigenomes to enhance agronomic traits, as highlighted in previous studies[3]. The ability to epigenetically edit plants like the Micro-Tom tomato opens up new avenues for crop improvement. By fine-tuning gene expression through epigenetic mechanisms, scientists can potentially create plants that are better suited to withstand biotic and abiotic stresses, thereby securing food sources in a changing climate[3]. The study's use of CRISPRa to promote somatic embryogenesis in tomatoes represents a merging of genetic and epigenetic tools to overcome the limitations of traditional plant breeding techniques. This integration of genome editing with epigenetic reprogramming could revolutionize how we approach crop enhancement, offering a more precise and potentially more stable method of altering plant traits without the need for transgenic modifications. In conclusion, the Cinvestav study not only demonstrates the potential of CRISPRa in plant science but also serves as a testament to the power of interdisciplinary research, combining genomics, epigenetics, and advanced biochemistry to push the boundaries of agricultural biotechnology. As we continue to face global food security challenges, such innovative approaches to crop improvement will be vital in ensuring a sustainable future.

BiotechGeneticsPlant Science


Main Study

1) Editing of SlWRKY29 by CRISPR-activation promotes somatic embryogenesis in Solanum lycopersicum cv. Micro-Tom.

Published 1st April, 2024

Related Studies

2) Epigenome Editing: State of the Art, Concepts, and Perspectives.

3) Epigenetics and epigenomics: underlying mechanisms, relevance, and implications in crop improvement.

4) History of CRISPR-Cas from Encounter with a Mysterious Repeated Sequence to Genome Editing Technology.

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