Gene-silencing technology to increase tree resilience

The agricultural industry is likely to benefit from an ability to protect plants from diseases and develop new plant varieties with favourable attributes, thanks to a technology that has long been having a positive impact on innovation in the food industry.

FuturaGene, which focuses on plant genetic R&D for sustainable forestry, has licensed CSIRO’s patented RNA interference (RNAi) technology which enables scientists to reduce or switch off the activity of single genes.

The company plans to use the ‘gene silencing’ technology to develop more resilient forestry crop varieties in future, primarily eucalyptus and poplar, and to preserve and enhance yield in renewable plantations.

The project is one of many around the world with potential future implications and opportunities for Australian forestry.

The FuturaGene research is not currently associated with any FWPA projects, however FWPA will monitor developments closely and keep members informed.

Since the technology was developed in the mid-1990s, CSIRO has provided research materials to 3700 laboratories globally and has issued more than 30 research and commercial licences. The efforts of Senior Research Scientist with CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Dr Ming-Bo Wang, who was involved in the development of the technology, were recognised with the 2007 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

Other uses of RNAi technology over the years have included the development of potatoes that do not go brown, animal feed that is easier to digest and safflower with higher oil content.

“While there are more recent gene-editing tools, RNAi will have a major role to play for many years to come because of its ability to silence multiple genes at the same time and tone down the expression of essential genes without killing a plant,” said Dr Wang.

FuturaGene is an R&D company that works to develop novel traits for new crops across the target sectors of plantation forestry, biopower and biofuels, with offices located in Asia and South America.

Source: CSIRO