Gene-edited potatoes with improved quality and health benefits

SEUNG_J21CASE

We are looking for a motivated student to join the labs of Dr. David Seung (John Innes Centre) and Prof. Jonathan Jones (The Sainsbury Laboratory) to work on an innovative approach to improving potato quality through gene editing. Potatoes are a staple source of carbohydrates in many parts of the world, and it is a priority for biotechnology to create healthier potatoes that have improved post-harvest quality.

Gene editing can effectively inactivate target genes to introduce desirable qualities in crops. For example, inactivating a starch branching enzyme can lead to more resistant starch in potato, which lowers glycaemic index and benefits gut health. However, inactivating target genes in the entire plant can in many cases lead to undesirable phenotypes and yield loss. It remains a challenge to deploy gene editing in a tissue-specific manner without transgenesis.

In this CASE project with industrial partner, Tropic Biosciences, the student will work with a novel gene-editing technology, Gene Editing induced Gene Silencing (GEiGS™), to achieve tuber-specific silencing of quality-related genes in potato. The application of this technology will first require the student to profile the small RNAs present in potato tubers during development and storage, which will provide training and experience in small-RNAseq and subsequent bioinformatics analyses. They will then use gene editing to deploy the technology in a diploid potato variety, providing experience with potato genetics and transformation. Subsequent changes in starch and sugar metabolism of tubers from edited plants will be characterised using established biochemical analyses. The student will assess the effectiveness of the technology to achieve improvement in tuber quality without affecting the physiology of other tissues.

This interdisciplinary project will provide the student with broad training at two leading plant science institutes, experience in collaboration with industry, and provide fundamental discoveries that contribute directly to translational outcomes.

References:

Seung D. 2020. Amylose in starch: Towards an understanding of biosynthesis, structure and function. New Phytologist doi:10.1111/nph.16858

Tuncel A, Corbin KR, Ahn‐Jarvis J, Harris S, Hawkins E, Smedley MA, Harwood W, Warren FJ, Patron NJ, Smith AM. 2019. Cas9‐mediated mutagenesis of potato starch‐branching enzymes generates a range of tuber starch phenotypes. Plant Biotechnology Journal 17: 2259–2271.