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Hype It

Covering food necessities is mandatory, but resources are not sustainably exploited nor equally distributed. Global strategies to increase food productivity and quality need to be concealed with a local perspective, e.g. providing local breeders with the necessary technology to improve their indigenous varieties. The aim of HYPE-IT is to decrease current technological barriers for breeding local crops using precision genome engineering.

The goal is to ease the gene editing process using SynBio-inspired optimized/simplified CRISPR/Cas9 tools. HYPE-IT brings along a software tool that associates crop traits with specific gene targets and designs optimal gRNAs for those targets. HYPE-IT also incorporates a modular gene circuit that serves as an in vivo gRNA testing system, ensuring appropriate gRNA choice even when no precise sequence information of local varieties is available. Moreover, we aim to develop a split Cas9 system based on viral vectors to efficiently deliver the editing machinery into the plant, and to create an affordable Labcase with all the necessary laboratory equipment for HYPE-IT.


The Sexy Plant

Pests cause great economical loss in agriculture and impede an optimal use of the resources. Sexy Plant rises as a pest control strategy based on the use of mating disruption by sex pheromones. The release of sex pheromones impedes male moths to find their females, avoiding crop-damaging larvae to be born.

The Sexy Plant is engineered to produce and release three moth sex pheromones which affect a broad number of Lepidoptera species (moths). We implemented previous work by Ding et al. [1] to produce the first two pheromones (Z11-16:OH and Z11-16:OAc). Inspired by Hagström et al [2], we planned the introduction of a Fatty Acid reductase to transform Z11-16:OH to Z11-16:Ald. As result, the sexy plant will be able to produce three sex pheromones involved in moth’s mating disruption (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Biosynthetic pathway of moth sex pheromones. Sex pheromones are bordered in purple.

Biosafety is a major concern in our project. For that reason, we have developed a biosafety module which allows an easy identification of the plant by identity preservation and prevents the plant to spread its genetic material via pollen.

In addition, we decided to enable external control of pheromone production, designing a genetic switch that controls the activation of the biosynthetic pathway. This genetic switch turns on the production of pheromones when a solution containing CuSO4 is sprayed on the plant.

The different genetic modules are put together to create the complete system. The system resembles an electric circuit, as it is represented in figure 2. Our genetic circuit, once introduced in Nicotiana benthamiana creates the Sexy Plant, a plant to fight moths and avoid damages in crops.


Figure 2. Our system in an electric circuit-like format. The plant’s own metabolism is used as the energy source. The biosafety module, composed by identity preservation and male sterility parts is always under expression in the system, to ensure the security of the transgenic plant. Pheromone synthetic pathways (A,B or C, depending on the problem pest) are activated using a genetic switch sensitive to Copper Sulfate, so system will not be producing pheromones unless it is activated with Copper-rich solution.



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