New Gene Drive System Offers Hope for Sustainable Agriculture

The Chinese Academy of Sciences and Peking University and Wenfeng Qian from the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology (IGDB) have collaborated to create a plant gene drive system known as CRISPR-Assisted Inheritance utilizing NPG1 (CAIN). The researchers claim that CAIN overrides Mendelian inheritance in plants by means of a toxin-antidote mechanism in the male germline.

The research was published in the journal Nature Plants.

Mendel's principles govern gene inheritance in nature, which gives alleles an equal chance of passing on to the following generation and form the basis of Darwinian natural selection.

On the other hand, Super-Mendelian inheritance permits some genes to be inherited at rates higher than the predicted 50%, which may allow these genes to proliferate across populations, even when they are harmful to organisms.

This method makes it possible to eliminate species deemed harmful to human interests or to manipulate natural populations by introducing genes that benefit humans even if they hurt plant creatures.

These developments provide creative answers to global problems, such as preventing plant illnesses, protecting the food supply from weeds or pests in agriculture, and resolving environmental issues brought on by the loss of biodiversity.

In this study, the CAIN system circumvents conventional Mendelian inheritance by acting through a poison antidote mechanism within the male germline. It functions as the “toxin” by disrupting the NPG1, a crucial gene for pollen germination, using a CRISPR-Cas9 construct. Only in pollen cells with the gene drive can the “antidote,” a recoded, CRISPR-resistant NPG1 gene, restore functioning.

To avoid accidental transmission to wild populations, the researchers employed self-pollinating plant Arabidopsis thaliana in this investigation. They found that over the course of two generations, the gene drive was transmitted at an astonishingly high rate of 88% to 99%.

The proof of CAIN in Arabidopsis makes expanded uses in plant genetics possible. As researchers work through this new subject, CAIN and related gene drive systems have the potential to revolutionize ecological management and agriculture methods.

Journal reference:

Liu, Y., et al. (2024). Overriding Mendelian inheritance in Arabidopsis with a CRISPR toxin–antidote gene drive that impairs pollen germination. Nature Plants.


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