Nanocarrier spray: Better crops without genetic modification


Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science (CSRS) in Japan have developed a way to improve crop quality without needing to create special genetically modified plants. Rather than changing plant genomes, the new technique relies on a spray that introduces bioactive molecules into plant cells through their leaves. The new technology could be used to help crops resist pests or become more resistant to drought—in less time and at less cost than making lines of genetically modified crops.

Technology allows us to directly alter genomes and create genetically modified organisms (GMOs), including GM food. However, making transgenic plants takes time, money, and still has not gained widespread public support. RIKEN CSRS researchers led by Masaki Odahara have developed an alternative to GM food that can overcome these problems. For example, rather than changing a plant’s genome so that it doesn’t express a particular gene, the same gene can be suppressed on the fly by inserting a specific bioactive compound into the plant. In this scenario, the bioactive compound is taken into the plant’s cells by a carrier that can penetrate the cell walls of plant cells.

“Targeting these structures with bioactive molecules delivered via spray could effectively improve economically desirable quality traits in crops. Our next step is to improve the efficiency of the delivery system. Ultimately, we hope this system can be used to safely protect crops from parasites or other harmful factors.”