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Transient reprogramming of crop plants for agronomic performance


The development of a new crop variety is a time-consuming and costly process due to the reliance of plant breeding on gene shuffling to introduce desired genes into elite germplasm, followed by backcrossing. Here, we propose alternative technology that transiently targets various regulatory circuits within a plant, leading to operator-specified alterations of agronomic traits, such as time of flowering, vernalization requirement, plant height or drought tolerance. We redesigned techniques of gene delivery, amplification and expression around RNA viral transfection methods that can be implemented on an industrial scale and with many crop plants. The process does not involve genetic modification of the plant genome and is thus limited to a single plant generation, is broadly applicable, fast, tunable and versatile, and can be used throughout much of the crop cultivation cycle. The RNA-based reprogramming may be especially useful in plant pathogen pandemics but also for commercial seed production and for rapid adaptation of orphan crops.

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Fig. 1: Transfection of various crop plants with viral vectors delivered using Agrobacterium or as VPs.
Fig. 2: Induction and repression of flowering with viral vectors in several plant species.
Fig. 3: Modification of plant stature in several crop species via modulation of gibberellin metabolic pathway by viral vectors.
Fig. 4: Transient reprogramming of other agronomic traits in tomato with PVX vectors delivered by Agrobacterium using spraying.
Fig. 5: Enhanced virus spread, amplification and recombinant protein accumulation using modified PVX vectors.
Fig. 6: Fate of Agrobacterium and viral vectors in transfected plants and soil (greenhouse and open field).

Data availability

All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article and its Supplementary Information. All materials are available for research purpose upon request from the corresponding author under a material transfer agreement with Nomad Bioscience. The following sequences of codon-optimized genes have been deposited in NCBI as GenBank accession numbers: MT877076 (SlTAGL1, codon optimized for rice), MT877077 (SlOVATE, codon optimized for rice), MT877078 (SlANT1, codon optimized for Bifidobacterium longum) and MT877079 (GFP, codon optimized for tobacco). Source data are provided with this paper.


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We thank E.-M. Franken (Bayer CropScience) for encouragement and valuable advice on experiments and H. Haydon (Kentucky BioProcessing) for support in conducting field trials. We also thank our colleagues at Nomad Bioscience and Icon Genetics, C. Engler, K. Havranek, T.-M. Ehnert, V. Klimyuk, F. Thieme, R. Kandzia, A. Nickstadt, Y. Symonenko and E. Stegemann-Oelerich for their valuable help. We are grateful to E. Hiatt, J. Poole, J. W. Shepherd and E. Blandford (Kentucky BioProcessing) for their help in conducting field trials. We thank T. Matsumura and I. Uyeda (Hokkaido University) for the plasmid pClYVV-GFP received as a gift, M. Quint (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg) for providing several Arabidopsis ecotypes and M. Köck (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg) for providing climatic cabinets for plant growth. We thank K. Eggert and B. Kettig (IPK-Gatersleben) for phytohormone analysis and A. Steppuhn (Free University Berlin) for providing hornworm eggs. We thank D. Tusé (DT/Consulting Group) and N. Amrhein (ETH Zürich) for critical reading of manuscript. Part of this work has been financially supported by Bayer CropScience. K.K. and V.P. acknowledge financial support by the Institute Strategic Programmme grant ‘Designing Future Wheat’ (BB/P016855/1) from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council of the United Kingdom.

Author information




Y.G. conceptualized and supervised the research. Y.G. and A.G. directed the research. Y.G., A.G., S.T., R.S., A.T., P.R., S.W. and K.K. designed the research. S.T., R.S., A.T., D.B., P.R., B.K., S.W., V.P. and G.H. performed the research. Y.G., A.G., S.T., R.S., A.T., P.R., B.K., S.W., V.P., K.K., J.D.G.J., N.v.W. and G.H. analysed the data. Y.G., A.G., S.T. and R.S. wrote the paper. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anatoli Giritch.

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Competing interests

Y.G. has shares in Nomad Bioscience. S.T., R.S., A.T., D.B., P.R., B.K., A.G. and Y.G. are employed by Nomad Bioscience. S.W. has been employed by Nomad Bioscience. A.G., D.B., P.R. and Y.G. are inventors on the patent application entitled ‘Process of transfecting plants’ (European patent no. EP2601295 B1); P.R., D.B., A.G. and Y.G. are inventors on the patent application ‘Agrobacterium for transient transfection of whole plant’ (European patent no. EP2834362 B1); Y.G. is an inventor on the patent application ‘Potexvirus-derived replicon’ (European patent no. EP2061890 B1); A.T., D.B., A.G. and Y.G. are inventors on the patent application ‘Process of providing plants with abiotic stress resistance’ (European patent no. EP2999790 B1); and S.T, R.S., A.G. and Y.G. are inventors on the patent application ‘Method of improving potexviral vector stability’ (European patent no. EP3456829 A1). The ownership of the patents resides with Nomad Bioscience. The authors have no other competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Plants thanks Stanton Gelvin, Lee Hickey and Peter Langridge for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–8, Tables 1–5, unprocessed SDS gels, western blots and agarose gels for Supplementary Figs. 4, 7 and 8, and statistical source data for Supplementary Figs. 3–7.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Table

Statistical source data of all the graphs of Supplementary Figs. 3–7.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 2

Unprocessed SDS gel and western blot for Fig. 2c.

Source Data Fig. 2

Statistical source data.

Source Data Fig. 3

Statistical source data.

Source Data Fig. 4

Statistical source data.

Source Data Fig. 5

Unprocessed agarose gels for Fig. 5a; SDS gel for Fig. 5g,d.

Source Data Fig. 5

Statistical source data.

Source Data Fig. 6

Unprocessed agarose gels for Fig. 6a,c,d.

Source Data Fig. 6

Statistical source data.

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Torti, S., Schlesier, R., Thümmler, A. et al. Transient reprogramming of crop plants for agronomic performance. Nat. Plants 7, 159–171 (2021).

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