Genetically modified (GM) crops have been used for decades. Allowing improved crop yields and protection from pests and pathogens, these crops are extremely important for the agricultural industry. Common GM products that are USDA approved include corn, cotton, and soybeans (Digital, 2020). However, whether or not GM crops should be used has been highly debated. On one hand, scientists claim that the benefits of GM crops significantly outweigh their detriments. On the other hand, part of the general public claims that because GM crops can be seen as “unnatural,” they should not be used. Additionally, the public claims that they cannot trust scientists because, oftentimes, these researchers are influenced by big industries (Pew Research, 2016). When we talked to farmers, we learned that farmers are more likely to sell “organic” produce since their consumers would prefer “natural” products as opposed to their bioengineered counterparts. We believe this discrepancy can be partially mitigated if there was a way to introduce more control over these crops. If there was a system that prevented GM crops from doing harm outside the controlled environment they are grown in, both consumers and farmers would be less reluctant to use them. This is why we created LightSwitch!
Bioengineered crops provide many advantages, such as increased nutrition and higher crop yields. However, these genetically modified crops also increase the risk of gene flow—the transfer of genetic variation across populations—from transgenic to wild crops. With a potential to threaten biodiversity, these genetically modified crops have the ability to negatively impact the natural environment. Because of this, there is a need for increased control over these crops. Currently, indoor farms such as vertical farms and greenhouses do provide some control by growing GM crops in a constantly monitored, indoor environment. However, there is currently no mechanism in place by these indoor farms to prevent the escape of transgenes.
For our project, we will be issuing the knockdown of the WUSCHEL gene through synthetic trans-acting small interfering RNAs (syntasi-RNAs). The reduction of WUSCHEL expression by these syntasi-RNAs would cause the promotion of stem cell differentiation, depleting the stem cell population of the shoot apical meristem (SAM). By moving symplastically through the plasmodesmata from N. benthamiana leaves to the SAM, syntasi-RNAs would be able to form a complex with other proteins, known as the RNA-Induced Silencing Complex, and cause the cleavage of our target Wuschel mRNAs (Carthew et al. 2009). This cleavage would obstruct translation, silencing the WUSCHEL gene. For a complete rundown of our design, please refer to our Design page!
Carthew, R. W., & Sontheimer, E. J. (2009). Origins and Mechanisms of miRNAs and siRNAs. Cell, 136(4), 642-655. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2009.01.035
Digital, G. (2020, January 25). Which genetically engineered crops and animals are approved in the US? Genetic Literacy Project. https://geneticliteracyproject.org/gmo-faq/which-genetically-engineered-crops-and-animals-are-approved-in-the-us/
Pew research. Public opinion about genetically modified foods and trust in scientists connected with these foods. (2016, December). https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2016/12/01/public-opinion-about-genetically-modified-foods-and-trust-in-scientists-connected-with-these-foods/#:~:text=About%20half%20of%20the%20public,eat%20contains%20genetically%20modified%20ingredients.