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Chloroplast-selective gene delivery and expression in planta using chitosan-complexed single-walled carbon nanotube carriers

Nature Nanotechnology (2019) | Download Citation


Plant genetic engineering is an important tool used in current efforts in crop improvement, pharmaceutical product biosynthesis and sustainable agriculture. However, conventional genetic engineering techniques target the nuclear genome, prompting concerns about the proliferation of foreign genes to weedy relatives. Chloroplast transformation does not have this limitation, since the plastid genome is maternally inherited in most plants, motivating the need for organelle-specific and selective nanocarriers. Here, we rationally designed chitosan-complexed single-walled carbon nanotubes, utilizing the lipid exchange envelope penetration mechanism. The single-walled carbon nanotubes selectively deliver plasmid DNA to chloroplasts of different plant species without external biolistic or chemical aid. We demonstrate chloroplast-targeted transgene delivery and transient expression in mature Erucasativa, Nasturtiumofficinale, Nicotianatabacum and Spinaciaoleracea plants and in isolated Arabidopsisthaliana mesophyll protoplasts. This nanoparticle-mediated chloroplast transgene delivery tool provides practical advantages over current delivery techniques as a potential transformation method for mature plants to benefit plant bioengineering and biological studies.

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This research was supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF), Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore under its Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) program. The Disruptive & Sustainable Technology for Agricultural Precision (DiSTAP) is an interdisciplinary research group (IRG) of the Singapore MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Centre. We also acknowledge support of Sime Darby Malaysia. T.T.S.L. and M.H.W. were supported on a graduate fellowship by the Agency of Science, Research and Technology, Singapore. V.B.K. was supported by The Swiss National Science Foundation (project no. P300P2_174469). The authors are grateful for helpful discussion with J. P. Giraldo and thank M. M. R. Ambavaram of Yield10 Bioscience for technical guidance and C. Xu of Yield10 Bioscience (now at Jounce Therapeutics) for technical assistance.

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Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: Seon-Yeong Kwak, Tedrick Thomas Salim Lew.


  1. Department of Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA

    • Seon-Yeong Kwak
    • , Tedrick Thomas Salim Lew
    • , Connor J. Sweeney
    • , Volodymyr B. Koman
    • , Min Hao Wong
    •  & Michael S. Strano
  2. Yield10 Bioscience, Inc., Woburn, MA, USA

    • Karen Bohmert-Tatarev
    •  & Kristi D. Snell
  3. Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore

    • Jun Sung Seo
    •  & Nam-Hai Chua


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S.-Y.K. and T.T.S.L. co-wrote the paper. S.-Y.K., T.T.S.L. and M.S.S. conceived and designed the experiments. C.J.S. assisted with the preparation and characterization of the chitosan-complexed SWNTs. V.B.K. performed AFM analysis. M.H.W. assisted with experimental design. K.D.S., K.B.-T. and J.S.S. constructed plasmid DNA. K.D.S. and K.B.-T. contributed the plastid DNA construct pMBX1120. J.S.S. and N.-H.C. constructed the nuclear DNA construct pBA-GFP-NL. All authors have revised the manuscript and given their approval of the final version.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael S. Strano.

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