Researchers Can Finally Modify Plant Mitochondrial DNA

Researchers in Japan have edited plant mitochondrial DNA for the first time, which could lead to a more secure food supply. Nuclear DNA was first edited in the early 1970s, chloroplast DNA was first edited in 1988, and animal mitochondrial DNA was edited in 2008. However, no tool previously successfully edited plant mitochondrial DNA.

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Japan, a potential sugar beet country

Japan has the potential to adopt biotech crops in the future with the increasing importation of biotech maize, soybean, canola, and cotton, which in 2016 was recorded at 20.9 million metric tons. About 90% of these crops were genetically modified (GM). The country leads globally in biotech crop approvals, however, no biotech crop was ever planted. This was put forward by Dr. Fusao Tomita, director of Nippon Biotechnology Information Center (NBIC) during the seminar launch of ISAAA Brief 52, Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016 in Tokyo, Japan. Dr. Tomita opined that Hokkaido farmers are interested in planting biotech sugar beet and consumers should be educated on substantial equivalence of sugar derived from biotech and non-biotech sugar beet.

Dr. Rhodora R. Aldemita of ISAAA presented the highlights of the ISAAA Brief 52, emphasizing on the approval of virus resistant biotech papaya for consumption since 2011 in Japan. There is also an ongoing limited planting of biotech carnation and rose in Japan in covered facilities, but no biotech crops are being cultivated. Dr. Yasufumi Iwai and Dr. Yoshihiko Fujimura, both from the Council for Biotechnology Information Japan (CBIJ) gave the opening remarks and the message, respectively.

The seminar launch was organized by CBIJ and NBIC with 120 participants, including the media, government representatives, academe,  and the industry at Asahi Seminar Hall, Tokyo, Japan on May 30, 2017. For more information, visit the Brief 52 homepage on the ISAAA website.

-Published in Crop Biotech Update.  See original article link here.

New rice fights off drought

Scientists at the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science (CSRS) have developed strains of rice that are resistant to drought in real-world situations. Published in Plant Biotechnology Journal, the study reports that transgenic rice modified with a gene from the Arabidopsis plant yield more rice than unmodified rice when subjected to stress brought by natural drought. The study was carried out in collaboration with researchers from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia and the Japanese International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS) in Japan.

As the amount of rice needed to help feed the global population increases, the consequences of drought-related crop reduction are becoming more severe. RIKEN scientists and their collaborators tackled this issue by developing transgenic strains of rice that are more resistant to drought.

Normally, plants adapt to drought-related stress by producing osmoprotectants — molecules like soluble sugars that help prevent water from leaving cells. Galactinol synthase (GolS) is an enzyme needed to produce one these important sugars called galactinol. In previous work, RIKEN scientists showed that Arabidopsis plants express the AtGolS2 gene in response to drought and salinity stress.

“The Arabidopsis GolS2 gene was first identified with basic research at RIKEN,” explains RIKEN scientist Fuminori Takahashi. “Using it, we were able to improve resistance to drought-related stress, and increased the grain yield of rice in dry field conditions. This is one of the best model cases in which basic research knowledge has been successfully applied toward researching a resolution to a food-related problem.”

For this study, they created several lines of transgenic Brazilian and African rice that overexpress this gene, and with their CIAT and JIRCAS collaborators, tested how well the rice grew in different conditions in different years.

The results were very promising. First, they grew the different rice lines in greenhouse conditions and showed that the modified Brazilian and African rice did indeed show higher levels of galactinol than the unmodified control rice. Next, they tested tolerance to drought during the seedling growth period because this period often overlaps with seasonal drought. In order to precisely control this part of the experiment, it was conducted in a rainout shelter that allowed them to artificially create drought-like conditions. After three weeks, the modified strains had grown taller and showed less leaf-rolling, a common response to drought stress.

Drought tolerance was next confirmed at the reproductive stage in three rainout field trials in Colombia. These trials were during different seasons and different locations. Nevertheless, transgenic lines in both species of rice showed higher yield, greater biomass, lower leaf-rolling, and greater fertility than the unmodified rice. Closer examination showed that five of the most promising strains had greater relative water content during drought conditions, and also used more light for photosynthesis, and contained more chlorophyll.

Finally, they tested the transgenic rice over a three-year period in different natural environments. Again, several of the transgenic strains showed higher grain yield under mild and severe natural drought.

When might we see this useful rice on the market? According to Takahashi, the greatest barrier to commercial availability is that they used genetically modified (GM) technology to generate the GolS2 transgenic rice. “Now, we have begun our next collaborative project, in which we will generate useful rice without GM technology. It might take 5-10 years to reach our goal, but we must keep pressing forward because droughts and climate change might get worse in the future.”


Reference: Selvaraj M, Ishizaki T, Valencia MO, Ogawa S, Dedicova B, Ogata T, Yoshikawa K, Maruyama K, Kusano M, Saito K, Takahashi F, Shinozaki K, Nakashima K, Ishitani M. Overexpression of an Arabidopsis thaliana galactinol synthase gene improves drought tolerance in transgenic rice and increased grain yield in the field. Plant Biotechnology Journal. doi: 10.1111/pbi.12731.

-Public release published via EurekaAlert.  See original article link here.

Agricultural Academy of Japan proposes conduct of field trial of GM crops

The Agricultural Academy of Japan, a professional academic organization for agriculture, held a press conference on their proposal to conduct a confined field trial of various GM crops, with priority to herbicide tolerant GM sugar beet in Hokkaido farms. The media briefing was held at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry in Tokyo on March 1, 2017, and attended by representatives from 10 media outlets in the country.

The proposal aims to conduct a field trial of GM crops, especially herbicide tolerant GM sugar beet to confirm the cost-cutting benefits of the technology enjoyed by HT sugar beet planting countries such as the USA and Canada. The non-labor intensive technology saves cost from labor, weeding activities and utilizes direct seeding rather than the planting of seedlings.

The proposal was made by the Academy to the national government and Hokkaido government, the first of its kind, which is hoped to resonate to other places in Japan so they will also benefit from the technology. The proposal was uploaded to the Academy website and forwarded to Governments and their research institutions, as well as to relevant academic associations.

Details in Japanese can be obtained at its website, For information on biotechnology in Japan, contact Dr. Fusao Tomita of Nippon BIC at

-Published in ISAAA’s Crop Biotech Update. ┬áSee original article link here.