Gene Editing Reduces Plant Susceptibility to Root-Knot Nematodes

Jim Crocker
9th June, 2024

Gene Editing Reduces Plant Susceptibility to Root-Knot Nematodes

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • The study by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute focused on using CRISPR/Cas9 technology to enhance nematode tolerance in Arabidopsis thaliana
  • Researchers knocked out the susceptibility gene HIPP27, resulting in plants with significantly reduced nematode infection without affecting growth
  • This approach offers a promising alternative to traditional nematode management strategies, potentially leading to the development of nematode-resistant crops
Plant-parasitic root-knot nematodes, specifically Meloidogyne incognita, are a significant threat to global agriculture, causing substantial yield losses in both agricultural and horticultural crops[1]. Traditional methods of managing these nematodes rely heavily on chemical nematicides, but the limited availability and environmental concerns associated with these chemicals have driven the search for alternative solutions. Additionally, resistance breeding strategies have proven unsustainable due to the limited sources of resistance (R) genes and the emergence of nematode populations that can overcome these resistance traits. RNA interference (RNAi) crops, though promising, face regulatory challenges that have hindered their commercialization. A recent study by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute has explored the use of CRISPR/Cas9 technology to enhance nematode tolerance in plants by knocking out susceptibility (S) genes. This approach aims to provide a long-lasting and broad-spectrum resistance to nematodes, offering a feasible alternative to traditional methods. The study builds on earlier findings that plant-parasitic nematodes maintain an intimate relationship with their host plants, manipulating the host's metabolic machinery to their advantage[2]. By targeting the host's S genes, researchers can disrupt this relationship, thereby reducing the nematode's ability to infect the plant. The CRISPR/Cas9 system, a precise genome editing technology, allows for the targeted modification of these genes using customizable guide RNAs (gRNAs) and the Cas9 endonuclease. In their research, the team focused on the nematode-responsive S gene HIPP27 from Arabidopsis thaliana. They first generated HIPP27 overexpression lines and inoculated them with M. incognita to study the gene's role in nematode infection. Subsequently, they synthesized two gRNAs corresponding to the HIPP27 gene and cloned them into a Cas9 editor plasmid. This plasmid was then introduced into Arabidopsis plants using the floral dip method, a technique for transforming plants with Agrobacterium tumefaciens[2]. The results were promising. The T0 generation of plants exhibited various mutations, including small deletions and insertions, as well as a significant 161 bp deletion adjacent to the protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) site. Phenotypic analysis of homozygous, transgene-free T2 plants revealed a marked reduction in nematode infection compared to wild-type plants, without any observed growth impairment. This indicates that the loss of function of the HIPP27 gene can improve host resistance to M. incognita[2]. The study's findings align with previous research indicating that plant-parasitic nematodes secrete molecules called effectors, which play a crucial role in parasitism[3]. These effectors are diverse and have evolved under selection pressure from plant hosts, leading to large, expanded effector gene families. However, the identification and characterization of these effectors have been challenging due to the lack of genetic transformation methods for nematodes. Moreover, the study contributes to our understanding of how nematodes interact with their host plants at the cellular level. Nematodes use an oral stylet to penetrate plant cell walls and deliver secretions into host cells, which can induce common responses such as endopolyploidization and cellular hypertrophy[4]. These responses are thought to be mediated by the interplay of effectors and other biologically active compounds in nematode secretions. By disrupting the host's susceptibility genes, researchers can potentially interfere with these processes, thereby reducing the nematode's ability to establish a prolonged feeding relationship with the host plant. In conclusion, the use of CRISPR/Cas9 technology to knock out susceptibility genes in plants offers a promising alternative to traditional nematode management strategies. The study by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute demonstrates that targeting the HIPP27 gene in Arabidopsis thaliana can significantly reduce nematode infection without affecting plant growth. This approach could pave the way for developing nematode-resistant crops, contributing to global food security and sustainable agriculture.

BiotechGeneticsPlant Science


Main Study

1) CRISPR/Cas9-induced knockout of an amino acid permease gene (AAP6) reduced Arabidopsis thaliana susceptibility to Meloidogyne incognita

Published 8th June, 2024

Related Studies

2) Functional analysis of a susceptibility gene (HIPP27) in the Arabidopsis thaliana-Meloidogyne incognita pathosystem by using a genome editing strategy.

3) Plant-parasitic nematode effectors - insights into their diversity and new tools for their identification.

4) Parallel adaptations and common host cell responses enabling feeding of obligate and facultative plant parasitic nematodes.

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