Use of the powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 could help to breed cacao trees that exhibit desirable traits such as enhanced resistance to diseases, according to Penn State plant scientists.
The researchers reported recently, in Frontiers in Plant Science, the study results, which were thought to be the first to demonstrate the feasibility of using cutting-edge CRISPR technology to improve Theobroma cacao.
Previous work in cacao identified a gene, known as TcNPR3, that suppresses the plant’s disease response. The researchers hypothesized that using CRISPR-Cas9 to knock out this gene would result in enhanced disease resistance.
When infected with Phytopthera tropicalis, a naturally occurring pathogen of cacao and other plants, the treated leaves showed greater resistance to the disease. The results suggested that the mutation of only a fraction of the copies of the targeted gene may be sufficient to trigger downstream processes, resulting in systemic disease resistance in the plant.
The researchers also created CRISPR gene-edited cacao embryos, which they will grow into mature trees to test the effectiveness of this approach at a whole-plant level.
Editor’s note: Read the full study
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