Gene Editing Soybeans For Healthier Oil

Using the Cpf1 variant of CRISPR gene editing technology, scientists in South Korea have successfully modified two genes in soybean plants.

AsianScientist (Feb. 23, 2017) – Researchers have successfully edited two genes that control the fat content of soybean oil using CRISPR-Cpf1, an alternative to the more widely used gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9. Their findings have been published in Nature Communications.

CRISPR-Cas9 is a third generation gene editing system widely used in biology labs all over the world. It uses proteins called Cas9, which act like a pair of ‘gene scissors,’ and CRISPR-RNA (crRNA), which guide the ‘scissors’ to edit the DNA at the right position.

In previous research, the team from the Institute for Basic Science used Cpf1, an alternative to Cas9, to edit human DNA cells. This time, the same research team grappled with editing plant genes and successfully introduced the CRISPR-Cpf1 complex into plant cells.

Firstly, the researchers designed CRISPR-Cpf1 to cut two FAD2 genes in soybeans. In plants, FAD2 genes are part of the pathway that converts fats, turning oleic acid into the polyunsaturated linoleic acid. Mutating FAD2 genes increases the percentage of oleic acid in soybean seeds, resulting in a healthier oil.

The team also confirmed that CRISPR-Cpf1 did not cut non-targeted locations within the soybean genome. The results demonstrate that CRISPR-Cpf1 is a highly efficient technique. Moreover, this method is 100 percent DNA-free, eliminating the risk of introducing foreign DNA by using chemically synthesized crRNA.

Apart from using shorter crRNAs which can be chemically synthesized, the CRISPR-Cpf1 technique creates larger deletions which help to completely silence the gene. Furthermore, Cpf1 makes cuts which leave ‘sticky ends’ that help improve the specificity of the gene editing process.

“CRISPR-Cpf1 could be used as a new tool for the development of value-added crops such as a new variety of soybeans with reduced unsaturated fat content,” explained study corresponding author Professor Kim Jin-Soo.

The article can be found at: Kim et al. (2017) CRISPR/Cpf1-mediated DNA-free Plant Genome Editing.


Source: Institute for Basic Science; Photo: Shutterstock.
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