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Novel Method Facilitates Delivery of Genes into Plant Mitochondria

Researchers at RIKEN have successfully smuggled genetic material into plant cells that produce energy, which makes it possible to induce plants to produce compounds beneficial for the industry.

A simulated image of a carbon nanotube (gray cylinder) coated with three peptide molecules (green, orange, and blue). RIKEN researchers have used such peptide-coated carbon nanotubes to deliver genetic material into plant mitochondria. Image Credit: S. S. Y. Law et al.

The ability to modify plant genetics to increase food production will be crucial to feeding the globe because it is predicted that there will be approximately 10 billion people on the planet in 2050.

It is also envisaged that plants will develop into biofactories that produce useful chemicals, such as drugs and fuels.

They can be engineered to produce other stuff besides food, such as various chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and recombinant proteins. The fact that you can use plants to make a lot of different things makes biotechnology such a promising field.

Simon Law, Center for Sustainable Resource Science, RIKEN

Importing genetic material into plant cells is one method of “reprogramming;” however, this is difficult since the thick cell wall inhibits many biomolecules.

Carbon nanotubes, which are rolled-up tubes of graphene with a diameter of only a few nanometers, are thin enough to pass through cell walls. However, once within the plant cell, carbon nanotubes have limited ability to target the mitochondria, a vital organelle in charge of producing energy and forming and degrading various compounds.

Law noted, “Getting stuff through the cell wall, the cell membrane, and then past mitochondria membranes is difficult and it hadn’t been achieved with high efficiency previously.

Now, Law, Keiji Numata, also of CSRS, and other researchers have employed carbon nanotubes to deliver DNA fragments into plant mitochondria efficiently.

They did this by first covering the carbon nanotubes with a polymer layer, which enabled the conjugation of peptides, which are short chains of amino acids. The carbon nanotubes were able to target mitochondria with the help of peptides.

The researchers improved the efficiency of DNA transfer to mitochondria by astounding 30 times compared to earlier attempts that employed peptides by conjugating the peptides on carbon nanotubes.

The first time I ran the experiment, I doubted the results as they seemed too high to be reasonable. But I became more confident after repeating it a few times and obtaining similar results,” Law stated.

The approach was used by the researchers to import a gene that accelerated plant growth, demonstrating the method’s efficacy. Other potential applications include accelerating breeding operations and modifying metabolic pathways to produce compounds of commercial value.

Additionally, it should be possible to target different organelles in plant cells by altering the peptides coated on the nanotubes.

Journal Reference:

Law, S. S. Y., et al. (2022) Polymer-coated carbon nanotube hybrids with functional peptides for gene delivery into plant mitochondria. Nature Communications. doi:10.1038/s41467-022-30185-y.


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