RNA Gene Manipulation Allows for 50 Per Cent Potato Yield Increase

Flowering potato plant
Photo: Pixabay

By manipulating RNA it can allow potato yield to dramatically increase and also improve drought tolerance, a group of scientists from the University of Chicago, Peking University and Guizhou University have found.

Initial tests found that by adding gene encoding for a protein called FTO to both rice and potato plants increased their yield by 50 per cent in field tests, a July 22 news release on the discovery says. The plants grew significantly larger, produced longer root systems and were better able to tolerate drought stress — the rate of photosynthesis was also increased.

“The change really is dramatic,” Chuan He, professor at the University of Chicago, says in the release. “What’s more, it worked with almost every type of plant we tried it with so far, and it’s a very simple modification to make.”

The RNA molecule reads DNA and make proteins carry out tasks. It also can regulate which parts of the blueprint are used, which is done by placing chemical markers onto RNA to modulate which proteins are made and how many, the release says.

Through this discovery researchers focused on a protein called FTO — the first known protein which erases chemical marks on RNA. The researchers tried inserting it into rice plants and then observed as it helped the plant grow.

The rice plants grew three times more rice under laboratory conditions, the release says. When they tried it out in real field tests, the plants grew 50 per cent more mass and yielded 50 per cent more rice. They grew longer roots, photosynthesized more efficiently, and could better withstand stress from drought.

The tests were repeated in potato plants, and the results were the same. The experiments show FTO started working early in the plant’s development, boosting the total amount of biomass it produced, the release notes. The scientists think FTO controls a process known as m6A, which is a key modification of RNA. In this scenario, FTO works by erasing m6A RNA to muffle some of the signals that tell plants to slow down and reduce growth.

The researchers are hopeful about the potential of this breakthrough, the release notes.

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