bokchoy100Engineering of plant systems

The University of Cambridge has a long history as a centre for study of the natural history and function of plant systems. New initiatives continue to promote these activities in Cambridge. Interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the genetic and biophysical basis of morphogenesis are providing opportunities for rational design and engineering of new plant forms. The pages in this section provide links to recent research and web-based resources.

Edyn Smart Garden System

"Edyn Smart Garden SystemSo, you would love to potter around the garden, but realize that you do not have any kind of green fingers whatsoever? Fret not, as technology catches up with life, those who do not have green fingers can still obtain help in the form of Edyn, a smart garden system which will include a Wi-Fi-connected sensor and water valve. These happen to be powered by the sun, and sport a rechargeable lithium-polymer battery that gets things up and running whenever it is not obtaining juice from our solar system’s star.

The brainchild of Jason Aramburu, Edyn is a Kickstarter project that is slightly halfway past to its goal, being a Wi-Fi connected gardening system that intends to make an assessment on soil nutrition as well as water in the area based on real time data garnered. All that you need to do is to place it in the ground, and it will get to work right away, hoping that with such quantifiable data, you will be able to know just how much water (or less) that your plant needs in order to thrive.

Soil sensors are not new, but Edyn takes things up by a notch with the ultimate goal of developing a huge database on the environments in which certain plants will thrive in, and in due time, will be used to introduce an unprecedented era of sustainable gardening and farming.

Edyn Smart Garden System , original content from Ubergizmo

Regulation of plant translation by upstream open reading frames.

Plant Sci. 2014 Jan;214:1-12

Authors: von Arnim AG, Jia Q, Vaughn JN

We review the evidence that upstream open reading frames (uORFs) function as RNA sequence elements for post-transcriptional control of gene expression, specifically translation. uORFs are highly abundant in the genomes of angiosperms. Their negative effect on translation is often attenuated by ribosomal translation reinitiation, a process whose molecular biochemistry is still being investigated. Certain uORFs render translation responsive to small molecules, thus offering a path for metabolic control of gene expression in evolution and synthetic biology. In some cases, uORFs form modular logic gates in signal transduction. uORFs thus provide eukaryotes with a functionality analogous to, or comparable to, riboswitches and attenuators in prokaryotes. uORFs exist in many genes regulating development and point toward translational control of development. While many uORFs appear to be poorly conserved, and the number of genes with conserved-peptide uORFs is modest, many mRNAs have a conserved pattern of uORFs. Evolutionarily, the gain and loss of uORFs may be a widespread mechanism that diversifies gene expression patterns. Last but not least, this review includes a dedicated uORF database for Arabidopsis.

PMID: 24268158 [PubMed - in process]

Metabolic engineering of volatile isoprenoids in plants and microbes.

Plant Cell Environ. 2014 Mar 4;

Authors: Vickers CE, Bongers M, Liu Q, Delatte T, Bouwmeester H

The chemical properties and diversity of volatile isoprenoids lends them to a broad variety of biological roles. It also lends them to a host of biotechnological applications, both by taking advantage of their natural functions and by using them as industrial chemicals/chemical feedstocks. Natural functions include roles as insect attractants and repellents, abiotic stress protectants, in pathogen resistance, etc. Industrial applications include use as pharmaceuticals, flavours, fragrances, fuels, fuel additives etc. Here we will examine the ways in which researchers have so far found to exploit volatile isoprenoids using biotechnology. Production and/or modification of volatiles using metabolic engineering in both plants and microorganisms is reviewed, including engineering through both mevalonate (MVA) and methylerythritol diphosphate (MEP) pathways. Recent advances are illustrated using several case studies. Systems and synthetic biology tools with particular utility for metabolic engineering are also reviewed. Finally, we discuss the practical realities of various applications in modern biotechnology, explore possible future applications, and examine the challenges of moving these technologies forward so that they can deliver tangible benefits. While this review focusses on volatile isoprenoids, many of the engineering approaches described here are also applicable to non-isoprenoid volatiles and to non-volatile isoprenoids.

PMID: 24588680 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Plant synthetic biology: a new platform for industrial biotechnology.

J Exp Bot. 2014 Mar 17;

Authors: Fesenko E, Edwards R

Thirty years after the production of the first generation of genetically modified plants we are now set to move into a new era of recombinant crop technology through the application of synthetic biology to engineer new and complex input and output traits. The use of synthetic biology technologies will represent more than incremental additions of transgenes, but rather the directed design of completely new metabolic pathways, physiological traits, and developmental control strategies. The need to enhance our ability to improve crops through new engineering capability is now increasingly pressing as we turn to plants not just for food, but as a source of renewable feedstocks for industry. These accelerating and diversifying demands for new output traits coincide with a need to reduce inputs and improve agricultural sustainability. Faced with such challenges, existing technologies will need to be supplemented with new and far-more-directed approaches to turn valuable resources more efficiently into usable agricultural products. While these objectives are challenging enough, the use of synthetic biology in crop improvement will face public acceptance issues as a legacy of genetically modified technologies in many countries. Here we review some of the potential benefits of adopting synthetic biology approaches in improving plant input and output traits for their use as industrial chemical feedstocks, as linked to the rapidly developing biorefining industry. Several promising technologies and biotechnological targets are identified along with some of the key regulatory and societal challenges in the safe and acceptable introduction of such technology.

PMID: 24638901 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

DNA assembly for plant biology: techniques and tools.

Curr Opin Plant Biol. 2014 Mar 11;19C:14-19

Authors: Patron NJ

As the speed and accuracy of genome sequencing improves, there are ever-increasing resources available for the design and construction of synthetic DNA parts. These can be used to engineer plant genomes to produce new functions or to elucidate the function of endogenous sequences. Until recently the assembly of amplified or cloned sequences into large and complex designs was a limiting step in plant synthetic biology and biotechnology. A number of new methods for assembling DNA molecules have been developed in the last few years, several of which have been applied to the production of molecules used to modify plant genomes.

PMID: 24632010 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Transient expressions of synthetic biology in plants.

Curr Opin Plant Biol. 2014 Mar 10;19C:1-7

Authors: Sainsbury F, Lomonossoff GP

Recent developments in transient expression methods have enabled the efficient delivery and expression of multiple genes within the same plant cell over a timescale of days. In some cases, the vectors deployed can be fine-tuned to allow differential expression of the various genes. This has opened the way to the deployment of transient expression for such applications as the production of macromolecular complexes and the analysis and manipulation of metabolic pathways. The ability to observe the effect of gene expression in a matter of days means that transient expression is becoming the method of choice for many plant-based synthetic biology applications.

PMID: 24631883 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]


Online resources, including bibliography, weblinks and posters, for work with the simple plant system, Marchantia polymorpha.