Applying Next Generation Sequencing and CRISPR to Address Plant Virology

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A major challenge that members of the agriculture sector need to contend with is the development of plant viral diseases. An inability to head off diseases affecting plants poses risks to the global supply chain and can affect whether populations can get proper nutrition.

Producers at farms from all corners of the world face losses of crops because of disease, and even when quantity isn’t affected by an outbreak, there is also the issue of declining quality in plants being grown. Frontiers in Genetics notes that 15% of damage to crops is caused by pathogens. And of this amount, some 48% of the downturn in crop yields is attributed to viruses.

So, it’s no wonder that scientists have a keen interest in applying next generation sequencing and CRISPR systems to solving problems in plant virology.

The Role of Next Generation Sequencing in Plant Viruses

New capabilities to study and identify DNA with next generation sequencing and then edit the genetic code with CRISPR technology are opening up a world of possibilities for plant scientists.

NGS involves massively parallel processing with high-speed computer systems to scan and identify viruses in a sample taken from a plant. And to edit genes to avoid disease, scientists are turning to CRISPR, which stands for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats” and was innovated back in 2012. You can use CRISPR technology to edit living cells.

Making repairs with CRISPR represents to scientists “an effective strategy to check viral attacks entails useful detection methods and thereafter deliberating the insights into the targeted viral genomes,” noted Frontiers in Genetics.

Viruses Attacking Plants

The viruses that strike crops are known as “obligate intracellular parasites.” They are characterized by having a low capability to code, so they are dependent on the plant hosts to carry out their growth and development.

Plant viruses are challenging because you have to come up with a specific strategy, not a generalized approach to defeating them. That’s why agricultural scientists are finding promise in the use of next generation sequencing, to formulate a plan based on the genomic details they obtain from high-speed sequencing done in parallel.

One of the most striking capabilities is that with NGS, you don’t need knowledge ahead of time about which particular pathogen might be attacking the crops in question. Modern next-gen sequencing systems let you quickly sequence a mysterious sample of nucleic acid.

And paired with CRISPR, you can edit any genome, from animal to plant. Frontiers in Genetics notes that technicians use CRISPR to target mutagenesis of certain genes that support the virus life cycle. They also employ CRISPR to target the genome of a virus. Identifying recessive-resistance genes can help scientists develop plants that will remain virus-free.

That will give farmers a sense of relief. Infections from a virus can lead to 98% of crops being damaged in the majority of tropical and subtropical countries, so the more immunity to disease that we can confer through the use of CRISPR after next generation sequencing, the better poised we will be to avoid food shortages or a food supply chain crisis.

NGS and CRISPR Seen as Vital to Addressing Plant Virology

With mass production of crops on an industrial scale being used to ensure that the earth’s growing population will have the food it needs to thrive, we have to pay special attention to the potential for disease outbreaks.

The connection of CRISPR technology with next generation sequencing is a sign that the agriculture sector will have new tools in its arsenal to identify diseases and keep them from overtaking crop production. A hungry world awaits ongoing developments in NGS as it pertains to plant health and maintaining food supplies at their requisite levels.