Attaining the promise of plant gene editing at scale

Ryan A. Nasti, Daniel F. Voytas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Crop improvement relies heavily on genetic variation that arises spontaneously through mutation. Modern breeding methods are very adept at combining this genetic variation in ways that achieve remarkable improvements in plant performance. Novel traits have also been created through mutation breeding and transgenesis. The advent of gene editing, however, marks a turning point: With gene editing, synthetic variation will increasingly supplement and, in some cases, supplant the genetic variation that occurs naturally. We are still in the very early stages of realizing the opportunity provided by plant gene editing. At present, typically only one or a few genes are targeted for mutation at a time, and most mutations result in loss of gene function. New technological developments, however, promise to make it possible to perform gene editing at scale. RNA virus vectors, for example, can deliver gene-editing reagents to the germ line through infection and create hundreds to thousands of diverse mutations in the progeny of infected plants. With developmental regulators, edited somatic cells can be induced to form meristems that yield seed-producing shoots, thereby increasing throughput and shrinking timescales for creating edited plants. As these approaches are refined and others developed, they will allow for accelerated breeding, the domestication of orphan crops and the reengineering of metabolism in a more directed manner than has ever previously been possible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2004846117
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number22
StatePublished - Jun 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. Work in the D.F.V. laboratory is supported by National Science Foundation Grant 1833402 and the Department of Energy Grant DE-SC0018277. We thank M. Leffler for help with the figures.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Crop improvement
  • Gene editing
  • Plant breeding


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