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The emerging role of nanotechnology in plant genetic engineering

Abstract

Genetic engineering to improve the capabilities of plants is essential given climate change and population growth pressures. Current manipulation methods are laborious and species dependent, which limits advances in agriculture and molecular farming. Therefore, new approaches and tools are needed to broaden the range of transformable species and increase the throughput at which transformation is achieved. Nanotechnology has revolutionized delivery, sensing and imaging in microbial and animal systems, but its application in plants remains scant. However, reports of nano-mediated delivery for the genetic manipulation of plants have emerged, including direct germline editing as well as plastid and mitochondrial genome modification. Here, we review the application of nanotechnology to plant genetic manipulation, including the development of nanocarriers for the delivery of genetic cargos and advances in nano-mediated plant regeneration. Particular focus is given to understanding structure–function relationships for the rational design of nanocarriers, and how these developments can catalyse progress in nucleic acid and protein delivery for plant biotechnology applications.

Key points

  • Population growth and climate change pose serious challenges to plant-based systems, requiring improvement through genetic manipulation to ensure their maintenance.

  • Current manipulation methods are amenable to a limited range of species and with low throughput. Nanotechnology-based strategies could overcome these limitations.

  • Advances in understanding nanomaterial structure–function relationships enable the development of first-principle models of the cellular fate of carriers and design heuristics related to size, charge and shape.

  • Nanotechnology-mediated delivery of site-specific nucleases and large cargos, such as transcription factors, is a promising strategy to improve the efficiency of genetic manipulation in plants.

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Fig. 1: Biological delivery barriers.
Fig. 2: Tuneable parameters for NP design.
Fig. 3: Nano-mediated transformation of plants.

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Acknowledgements

Co-lead authors contributed equally to this work and may revise the order of authorship when presenting this work. M.P.L. is a Chan-Zuckerberg Biohub investigator, a Hellen Wills Neuroscience Institute Investigator, and an IGI Investigator. H.J.S. and E.V. were supported by the Department of Defense (DoD) through the National Defense Science & Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship Program.

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H.J.S. and S.T. contributed equally in leading the writing of the manuscript and drafting figures. E.V. and E.G.G. contributed to the writing of the manuscript. M.P.L. provided funding and direction for the work.

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Squire, H.J., Tomatz, S., Voke, E. et al. The emerging role of nanotechnology in plant genetic engineering. Nat Rev Bioeng 1, 314–328 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s44222-023-00037-5

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