Plant Genomics ‘Molecular Scissors’ Developed at KAUST
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have developed a
novel technology that could improve the quality, yield and disease resistance
of current crop varieties. The implications for agricultural science are
In a paper published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences,
new way of genetically engineering plants to tolerate aggressive
environments. Regions where water quantity and quality are limiting, such as
for stress tolerance, which would not only address the problem of the
nutritional needs of a growing population but could pave the way for surplus
crops to be exported to GM-restrictive markets like
Dr. Mahfouz works at the Plant Stress Genomics Research Center at KAUST,
directed by Professor
with its founder’s expressed desire that KAUST should bring the benefits of
novel research and the accompanying economic development to the region, with
the promise of benefits worldwide.
Dr. Mahfouz has developed a “repair tool” (molecular scissors) made out
of protein that does two things: it finds the exact place on the genome where
it is to be cut using a genetic “postcode” and then deletes, adds or edits
the gene with great accuracy and precision.
Dr. Mahfouz’s work has the potential for much broader applications
including human health. This new technology could enhance the technique that
may be used to substitute “good” genes for bad, or to cut out or silence the
defective genes that cause disease.
Commenting on the research, KAUST Provost Stefan Catsicas saw the
technology as a scientific breakthrough and, if the patent is eventually
successful, having potentially promising revenues.
DNA-cutting enzymes tailored to cut a desired target sequence with very high
specificity. This is an excellent step forward toward creating very specific
genetic improvements in crop plants, while avoiding the potential risks many
are concerned about with more conventional genetic modification strategies.
Moreover, the paper gives the first evidence that this particular strategy
will work in plants.” Professor Federoff is “delighted to see such
cutting-edge contributions emerging from a university as young as KAUST!”
of Technology in
commented “that it is very pleasing to see that KAUST has now produced a
breakthrough contribution in the field of life science. The work by Mahfouz
has great impact and connects with early discoveries by Nobel Laureate Sir
nuclease function may be exploited to create, highly selectively,
double-strand breaks in DNA which initiates recombination-catalyzed insertion
of an oligonucleotide sequence with surprisingly high efficacy. The
possibility to take this DNA manipulation into clinic for “gene correction
therapy” is thus no longer only science fiction.
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is an
international, graduate level research university located on the Red Sea. The
University is committed to advance science and technology through
transdisciplinary research in the globally significant areas of energy,
water, food and environment. The University’s inaugural class of 300 master’s
SOURCE King Abdullah University of Science & Technology