Plant Biology and Biotechnology

Crop Improvement

Three Research Groups in Delhi work to understand genes and molecules that could lead to improvement in food production and nutritional yield. The Crop Improvement Group (Reddy) modifies rice plants to protect them against adverse environmental conditions by reducing oxidative stress, using the most recent targeted genome editing technologies based on CRISPR/Cas9. The Nutritional Improvement of Crops Group (Kaul) aims to improve the nutritional value of food by generating cereals, legumes and tomatoes free of phytic acid, which sequesters micronutrients from being absorbed by the gut. It also seeks to obtain non-selective herbicide resistant rice plants for weed control, in addition to identifying genetic solutions to avoid premature ripening of fruits post-harvest.

The Plant Transformation Group (Leelavathi) aims to improve the cotton plant by introducing genes that confer insect and virus resistance and improve the fibre quality. This Group also expresses enzymes important for biofuel production, such as xylanase, in tobacco plants through chloroplast transformation. The Bacteriology Group in Trieste ( Venturi) focuses on interkingdom signaling between plants and plant-associated bacteria, with special attention to emerging bacterial plant pathogens of rice and other food plants.

Highlights

Re-designing genomes for sustainable innovation in agriculture and nutrition via fostering of smart crops with traits such as improved micronutrient and antioxidant contents, enhanced herbicide tolerance, and stress tolerance. Developed phytase-rich tomatoes, phytate-free cereals and legumes for alleviating global micronutrient malnutrition. Developed glyphosate tolerant maize, rice and pigeon pea genome edited lines using CRISPR-Cas9. Developed cisgenic and marker free wheat lines with improved grain iron, zinc and protein content. Whole genome of V. umbellata (Rice bean) has been sequenced and submitted to NCBI Sequence Read Archive (SRP132447). Genes of Chromosomal and Non-Chromosomal regions have been identified by aligning with Closely related and Distantly related gene models. Improving the traits like unpalatability, late flowering and indeterminacy in rice bean crop utilizing CRISPR-Cas9/Cpf1/2 genome editing technology.

The Crop Improvement and Nutritional Improvement of Crop Groups in New Delhi collaborated on an important review article describing the many roles of ascorbate peroxidase in abiotic stress tolerance in plants (Pandey et al., 2017, Front. Plant Sci. 20, 581). A seminal piece of work from the Bacteriology Group in Trieste contributed to a large scale genomic analysis of bacteria associated with plants and identified key elements that define plant-associated genomes (Levy et al., 2018, Nat. Genet. 50, 138).

This work has important implications in understanding plant-bacteria interactions, for identifying plant-beneficial bacteria and for aiding efforts aimed at improving crop yields through the use of environmentally friendly microbial biofertilisers. In addition, the Bacteriology Group continues with studies on the role of cell-cell communication in emerging rice bacterial diseases (Uzelac et al., 2017 Microbiology 163, 765) as well as isolating and characterizing plant beneficial bacteria for potential application in agriculture (Moronta et al., 2018 Microorganisms 2018 11, E14).