Researchers have used advanced gene-editing techniques to generate disease-resistant wheat.

Genetically altering Triticum aestivum wheat is difficult to do, in part because the plant has six sets of chromosomes instead of the two sets found in humans. So Caixia Gao and Jin-Long Qiu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and their colleagues used two gene-editing approaches — TALEN enzymes and the CRISPR–Cas9 system — to disable a gene called MLO in all of the plants' chromosomes. This made the plants resistant to fungal diseases called powdery mildew. Knocking out all versions of the gene yielded the greatest resistance.

For the many crops that have multiple genome copies, such techniques can lead to improvements that are not possible through conventional breeding, the authors suggest.

Nature Biotechnol. (2014)