A popular technique for studying genes from different organisms plus a new carrier to transfer them to plants have yielded a powerful tool for understanding crops better.

  • 13
  • AUG
  • 2018

A plant virus with a simple genome promises to help crop scientists understand traits and diseases in wheat and maize more quickly and easily than existing techniques and, as its full potential is tapped, to work across a range of different plant species.

The Foxtail mosaic virus (FoMV) has now overcome the limitations of existing carriers, or vectors, to enable a much greater range of proteins to be expressed in host plants. It uses an established and popular technique known as virus-mediated overexpression (VOX), reports a team of investigators led by Rothamsted Research.

The team, which also includes Syngenta Technology in the US and Syngenta Crop Protection in Switzerland, selects genes from different organisms, including fungal pathogens, and transfers them into cereal crops. It then investigates the genes’ functions by studying the effects of the proteins that they express. The team’s findings are published in full in the August edition of Plant Physiology.

“The development has stirred much interest among cereal pathologists around the world since preliminary findings began to emerge in early June,” says Kostya Kanyuka, a molecular plant pathologist at Rothamsted, who led the study and whose group specialises in state-of-the-art functional genomics.

“You don’t need the whole (stable crop transformation) kitchen,” says Kanyuka, emphasising the simplicity and cost effectiveness of his team’s latest development. “And we’ve demonstrated successful expression of proteins up to 600 amino acids long, at least three times larger than was possible in the past.”

maize under uv with GFP showing infected green yellow areasNeat fix: green fluorescent protein (GFP) under ultra-violet light highlights the green-yellow areas of a maize plant that have been “infected” with the new viral vector

Kanyuka notes: “The new FoMV-derived vector PV101 enables rapid and cost-effective expression of proteins in cereal plants as a route to understanding the function of their genes. And the range of proteins that can be expressed using this vector is wide, plus the new vector overcomes limitations of previously available VOX vectors.”

According to Kim Hammond-Kosack, who leads molecular wheat disease research at Rothamsted and is a member of the team that developed the new vector: “The level and duration  of expression of proteins of interest, both locally and systemically from the new FoMV-VOX vector, is impressive. It’s enabled us to ramp up our de novo protein screening rate in wheat plants, and this is already benefiting several research projects.”

For Syngenta, “the development of a new FoMV-based VOX system is a great example of collaborative work between Rothamsted Research in the UK, Syngenta Crop Protection in Switzerland and Seeds Research of Syngenta Biotechnology in the US,” says Stephane Bieri, a disease resistance scientist at Syngenta Crop Protection and a co-author of the paper.

“The team has worked well together, exchanged ideas and expertise between different sites to develop a new VOX system to meet Syngenta’s objectives with an ambitious timeline,” notes Bieri. He adds: “We are all pleased that the powerful VOX system is available not only for the wheat community within Rothamsted Research and Syngenta but for others as well, including the maize community.”

The new FoMV-VOX vector is covered by a Material Transfer Agreement, which enables Rothamsted to make its technology developments available as open access and free of charge.

Syngenta contacts:
Monika Spiller, Collaboration Manager
Tel: +49 (0) 5222 530 8221

Amy Stapleton, Global Communications Manager - Crop Protection
Tel: +41 (0) 61 323 1051

About Syngenta
Syngenta helps humanity face its toughest challenge: how to feed a rising population, sustainably. Farmers are at the heart of everything we do. We apply world-class science and the most productive research and development in the industry to achieve a step change in agricultural productivity. In more than 90 countries around the world, our employees enable millions of farmers to improve global food security by making better, more sustainable use of available resources.

About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes

About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.