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Nanotechnology fits plant science, too

Agriculture.com Staff 05/17/2007 @ 7:57am

A team of Iowa State University plant scientists and chemists has successfully used nanotechnology to penetrate plant cell walls and deliver a gene and a chemical that triggers its expression.

Their breakthrough brings nanotechnology to plant biology and agricultural biotechnology, creating a powerful new tool for targeted delivery into plant cells. The scientists are Kan Wang, professor of agronomy and director of the Center for Plant Transformation, Plant Sciences Institute; Victor Lin, professor of chemistry and senior scientist, U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory; Brian Trewyn, assistant scientist in chemistry; and Francois Torney, formerly a post-doctoral scientist in the Center for Plant Transformation and now a scientist with Biogemma, Clermond-Ferrand, France.

Currently, scientists can successfully introduce a gene into a plant cell. In a separate process, chemicals are used to activate the gene's function. The process is imprecise and the chemicals could be toxic to the plant.

"With the mesoporous nanoparticles, we can deliver two biogenic species at the same time," Wang said. "We can bring in a gene and induce it in a controlled manner at the same time and at the same location. That's never been done before."

The controlled release will improve the ability to study gene function in plants.

The ISU team, which has been working on the research in plants for less than three years, started with an ISU proprietary technology developed previously by Lin's research group.

"One gram of this kind of material can have a total surface area of a football field, making it possible to carry a large payload," Trewyn said.

The biologists successfully used the technology to introduce DNA and chemicals to Arabidopsis, tobacco and corn plants.

"The most tremendous advantage is that you can deliver several things into a plant cell at the same time and release them whenever you want," Torney said.

"Until now, you were at nature's mercy when you delivered a gene into a cell," Lin said. "There's been no precise control as to whether the cells will actually incorporate the gene and express the consequent protein. With this technology, we may be able to control the whole sequence in the future."

And once you get inside the plant cell wall, it opens up "whole new possibilities," Wang said.

"We really don't know what's going on inside the cell. We're on the outside looking in. This gets us inside where we can study the biology per se," Wang said.

A team of Iowa State University plant scientists and chemists has successfully used nanotechnology to penetrate plant cell walls and deliver a gene and a chemical that triggers its expression.

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