It is a big challenge for plant scientists to ensure food security for the rising population of the world. As, the cultivated land under different crops is not increasing significantly with the increase in population, so in order to cope with this challenge, it is required that the crops’ productivity must be increased. In this regard, not only the different biotic and abiotic factors but also the inbreeding and outbreeding depressions pose big threat to the major economic crops that significantly limit their productivity. Being sessile, plants have developed various mechanisms which allow them to detect even minute changes and respond to those stress conditions thus minimizing damage. Alternatively, with the modification of plant genome, the dream of sustainable agriculture could be achieved. However, the idea is to develop, not only the hybrids but, disease resistant hybrids by using multiplex genome editing such as clustered regularly interspaced palindromic repeats/CRISPR-associated protein 9 (CRISPR/Cas9). Typically, many plant diseases and other stresses are being controlled by different recessive genes that help them in their proliferation and also get transferred to subsequent generations. Likewise, male sterility is a trait which improves cross pollination and plays an important role in improvement of the efficiency of hybrid seed production. Interestingly, there are many genes which control photoperiod/thermo-sensitive genic male sterility (P/TGMS) and they could be disrupted using CRISPR/Cas9 to develop male sterile lines. In the past, genetic changes in such susceptibility (S) and P/TGMS genes have been shown to confer disease resistance and male sterility, respectively. This phenomenon occurs individually in many economically important crops. Similarly, the same tasks have been achieved in many recent studies by using an efficient and robust new genome editing tools, including CRISPR/Cas9. But, unfortunately, the disease resistant plants developed through genome editing particularly CRISPR/Cas9 does not meet the criteria of sustainable agriculture due to some serious penalties in yield and other quality parameters. Therefore, any simultaneous action on S and P/TGMS genes in selected cultivars may give disease resistant inbred lines and ultimately disease resistant hybrids. So, the development of transgene-free and durable disease-resistant crop hybrids by using CRISPR/Cas9 is the main idea (Figure 1: Illustration of key idea). It will lead us to the future of sustainable agriculture along with sustainable protection of the crops, for what we are struggling for – healthy environment, reduction in input cost, less disease attacks, more quality yield and more savings etc. Apart from this, currently, I am working in one direction and that is the only “development of blast resistant rice lines by using CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing system” but the proposed study has not been investigated so far.
However, different steps and intended materials and methods have been briefly mentioned in figure 1 (a key figure). The project may take three to four years. Initially, for CRISPR work, 2 years would be enough but more time might be required for other studies such as GUS, GFP, gene complementation and overexpression etc.
Key Stakeholders and Beneficiaries
This work is purely from applied side of plant sciences. Any development made through this project would directly benefit the farming community and in general all public will be greatly benefitted. It will become a source to reduce input costs during crop cultivation, will increase crop yield and due to less use of chemical sprays the environment would never come under threat. Therefore, I have no hesitation to say that this project will improve the socio-economic condition of the farming community and the agro-based industry dependent upon raw products from agriculture will harness the benefits. So, the key stakeholders and beneficiaries will be all human beings on the planet earth.
Possible Outcomes and Benefits
- Blast resistant male sterile mutants would be created and then will be used for hybrid development.
- Both male sterile and blast resistant mutants will be in hand, separately.
- The relevant morpho-agronomic characteristics along with quality traits would be assessed.
- A study in the form of a research paper out of the proposed idea may become available through some SCI journal.
- Developed hybrid could be used commercially to fight against hunger which is also the Goal #2 among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by the United Nations.
- New disease resistant hybrid would improve the socio-economic status of people directly or indirectly associated with the profession of agriculture
- It will reduce the hazard to the environment
- No public health issue will be raised due to the processing of transgene free plants, expectedly.
Why am I passionate about the innovation or idea I am proposing?
I aim to, work on SDG #2, achieve food security, plant health, nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, which is not possible without clinching the abiotic and biotic stresses particularly plant diseases. If I summarize my motivation in a single word then I would like to say that my motivation is struggle for “Zero Hunger”.
If I succeed to get the desired results then being a plant biologist it would be everything to me and as far as the people of my community are concerned I think this could be a great relief to them in terms of low input cost and high returns. As, most of the families of my community depend on the income generated from agriculture and cannot afford the expensive inputs as compared to a progressive farmer. Therefore, I believe that this could help the farmers and revolutionize the aim of sustainable agriculture. Last but not the least, I am much positive about the idea and its feasibility. My hopes are quite high and I am expecting exceptional results from the proposed study. However, the only hindrance could be the efficiency of vector transformation during development of disease resistant male sterile line. Additionally, temperature/photoperiod effect flowering, so proper green house will be required to maintain these environmental components.
Note: The idea can be applicable to any crop and/or disease
Shakeel Ahmad, Pakistan