Scientists from Faculty of Science have developed new alfalfa with increased biomass and barley resistant to Fusarium using genetic engineering

Čtvrtek 16. listopad 2023, 14:43 – Text: Šárka Chovancová

New genotypes of alfalfa and barley were developed using genetic engineering and editing by scientists from the Department of Biotechnology, Faculty of Science, Palacký University Olomouc. The results of their research focused on signalling in plants, which in the future could contribute to increasing yields and pest resistance of agricultural crops, have been published in prestigious international journals such as Plant Biotechnology Journal, Plant Physiology, Journal of Experimental Botany and Frontiers in Plant Science.

Alfalfa is an important fodder and source of high-quality proteins for human nutrition. Thanks to this, it gradually complements and partially even replaces the better-known soybean. The experts altered alfalfa's properties using gene engineering that caused overproduction of the signalling protein SIMK, which is a mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK). This enzyme is important not only for plant response to stress conditions, but also for their development. It is indispensable in the interaction of alfalfa with soil bacteria from the genus Rhizobium, thanks to which this fodder creates root nodules important for obtaining the necessary amount of nitrogen from the soil, and does not need to be fertilized. The method of genetic engineering helped to create new important alfalfa genotypes with increased biomass.

Scientists Jozef Šamaj and Miroslav Ovečka have been studying the functions of the SIMK protein for more than 20 years. Younger researchers Miroslava Medelská (Hrbáčková), Ivan Luptovčiak and Kateřina Hlaváčková have been working intensively with them for the last 10 years.

Researchers from the Department of Biotechnology, Faculty of Science UP also focused their attention on barley, for which they used the TALEN gene editing method. Employing this procedure, they prepared completely unique mutant lines of barley with knockout of MAPK3 gene, which are characterized by resistance to fusarium wilt. Using another genome editing method, CRISPR/Cas9, they succeeded in obtaining a barley line with the knockout of MAPK6 gene, which is defective in stem formation and exhibits a dwarf phenotype. This research clearly demonstrates that results from the model plant Arabidopsis unfortunately cannot be directly applied to crops, as mutants in the same gene show defects in root and not stem development in Arabidopsis.

The results of this ten-year breakthrough research focused on barley have been published in renowned journals, and the main authors Pavel Křenek, Tomáš Takač, Jasim Basheer, Pavol Vadovič and Jozef Šamaj are from the Department of Biotechnology.

“This practically oriented research with possible biotechnological use is already helping to create modern crops of the new generation with higher biomass production or increased resistance to dangerous pathogens, and is moving our department to the forefront in gene editing and modification of agriculturally important crops in the Czech Republic,” said the head of the Department of Biotechnology at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of Palacký University in Olomouc Jozef Šamaj.

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