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article imageTomato jumping genes can help speed-breed drought-resistant crops

By Tim Sandle     Oct 1, 2019 in Science
Cambridge - A new study from British researchers shows how harnessing tomato jumping genes can assist with the process of developing speed-breed drought-resistant crops, thereby helping to address world hunger.
The focus of the research, which comes from the University of Cambridge, is with so-called 'junk DNA' that was thought to serve no purpose. The DNA is described as a family of 'jumping genes', of a type found in tomatoes. The research suggests that the DNA has the potential to accelerate crop breeding, in relation to traits triggering improved drought resistance.
The jumping genes are rider retrotransposons, ubiquitous in the tomato genome and which contribute to fruit shape and color of the tomatoes. Until recently, the mechanisms regulating Rider activity have been largely unknown. Transposons are transposable elements - DNA sequences - that can change its position within a genome.
New analysis shows that the Rider family is additionally present and in other crops. This means it has potential to be used as a source for new trait variations, to be used in other plants (through genetic engineering) to enable plants to cope with extreme conditions. This will not only help some plants to grow in more inhospitable areas, it will also help address areas that will be affected by climate change.
This is possible since transposons can copy themselves into new positions within the genome of a plant, and then change, disrupt or amplify genes. Theoretically this would allow crop scientists to generate new characteristics in a range of plants that are used for food. Most importantly, creating crops that are better adapted to drought stress.
According to lead researcher Dr Hajk Drost: "By controlling this 'random mutation' process within the plant we can accelerate this process to generate new phenotypes that we could not even imagine."
The research has been published in the journal PLoS Genetics, with the paper titled "Environmental and epigenetic regulation of Rider retrotransposons in tomato."
More about Crops, Drought, Dna, Genes
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