With the looming threat of climate change, a shift towards more sustainable and resilient agricultural practices is indispensable to avoid serious damage to the ecosystem. Thus, we believe that the rapid improvement of existing crops and the integration of new and diverse plant species are essential to ensure the resilience of global food supply chains to the changing climate.
The main method for the genetic modification of plants relies on Agrobacterium. A genus of Alphaproteobacteria able to insert recombinant DNA into the plant's genome. However, there are many limitations when it comes to the range of plants that can be transformed, leading to most research being done on just a few model organisms.
This year, our team aims to enhance Agrobacterium rhizogenes mediated plant transformation by optimizing existing methods and introducing new parts essential for Agrobacterium. Ultimately, this could broaden the range of transformable plants, opening the door for an endless choice of plant species. This empowers all future iGEM teams to effectively address local challenges using the unique attributes of their regional plant species.
Controlling the expression of key regulators in Agrobacterium is vital to expand the scope of transformable plants. To accomplish this goal, we went through 4 rounds of the DBTL cycle to create our best new composite part. This part will allow future iGEM teams to work with their local plant species of choice by improving the ability to control Agrobacterium during plant transformation.
So far, only 48 teams have tackled plant projects in the 20 years of iGEM. Most of these worked on the model species Arabidopsis thaliana and Nicotiana benthamiana. While some efforts have been made to improve Agrobacterium strains, the set of suitable synthetic biology tools available for this organism are scarce. We have adapted and optimized methods that completely skip the need for tissue culture, the most arduous steps of plant transformation.
In addition to the contribution to biodiversity, the use of local and non-model species can also have a major role in ensuring food security. From their use as climate-resistant alternatives, to the possibility of introducing entirely new crops through de novo domestication, expanding plant engineering reserves a great potential. We consulted experts from diverse fields of study for their perspective.
Our educational mission centered on two key objectives: Enhancing public understanding and communication in synthetic biology, while advocating inclusivity with the goal of catalyzing a transformation to a more inclusive science communication. Drawing insights from experienced science communicators and conducting surveys, we have not only identified but also acted upon the urgent requirement for interactive learning experiences and the pressing need for inclusive science education.
With all the protocols, tools and resources we have developed, we hope to enable future teams to further extend the garden of plant projects in iGEM, which address their local challenges using the unique attributes of regional plant species.