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MTT’s barley gene transfer technique ready

MTT Agrifood Research Finland has introduced an Agrobacterium-mediated gene transfer technique for barley. Genetically modified barley is at the same time the main opening in plant gene transfer research at MTT.

Development of gene transfer methods forms part of the Disease Resistant Barley project, which provides genomic tools for managing and monitoring barley net blotch. The project, which started in 2005 and runs until 2011, is implemented in cooperation between MTT, the University of Helsinki, and Boreal Plant Breeding Ltd.

In addition to gene transfer, our research focuses include gene mapping, isolation of genes on the basis of map location, new gene replication methods, and bioinformatics.

Net blotch is the number one disease afflicting barley in Finland. Although the area of the barley genome concerned with resistance to net blotch has been identified, there is no accurate information on the genes located there. Gene transfer enables us to identify and verify which genes leads to net blotch resistance in barley, and how these genes function.

– Once the gene is identified, we can use methods for plant breeding in which this characteristic can be identified from wild barley strains, for example, and new barley varieties produced through an intensified back cross programme, says Outi Manninen, the research scientist responsible for the Disease Resistant Barley project.

– Genomics makes use of gene transfer as a tool, and the production of a genetically modified (GM) variety of barley is not the actual objective. New information gleaned from the research can nevertheless be exploited in the development of GM varieties.

Marker genes transferred

The MTT plant genomics team employed Agrobacterium as the means of gene transfer. Agrobacterium is a general soil bacterium with an excellent natural capacity for gene transfer. The gene transferred to barley is a marker gene producing fluorescent protein, the colour helping to track gene function.

The project has utilized retrotransposon promoters areas isolated from the barley genome, which have been extensively researched by MTT research scientist Professor Alan Schulman. Promoters have a significant role in gene function, as they regulate at what intensity, what stage and in which parts of the plant the genes will function.

Promoter areas used in transfers are mostly derived from maize or the cauliflower mosaic virus. It is hoped the usual phenomenon of promoters turning off if many gene copies are transferred simultaneously will be avoided with the aid of new Finnish applications.

Sufficiently efficient

Outi Manninen says that all plants produced from embryo cell tissue in MTT research have proved to be genetically modified. – The method has now acquired an ample degree of efficiency and is very effective.

Juha Heikkilae | alfa
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