The Tools and Techniques of Plant Biotechnology
Biotechnology techniques available to plant researchers allow for the identification, isolation and alteration of genes and their reintroduction into living organisms in order to produce transgenic varieties. These new techniques have been supplanting more traditional agricultural methods, resulting in the enhanced production of food, fiber and other agricultural products. The Science Advisory Board therefore wanted to assess the state of plant research and determine which research techniques are currently used and what unmet technological and product needs still remain in the field of plant research. Almost 600 scientists participated in a study addressing these issues that was sponsored by The Science Advisory Board.
Two-thirds of the study respondents use molecular biology techniques and most work on food plants. Some of these techniques are real-time PCR (27% of respondents), RNAi (24% of respondents), confocal microscopy (61% of respondents), and protein microarrays (15% of respondents). In addition to food plants, 34% of respondents work on the model system, Arabidopsis thaliana. Although the Arabidopsis genome has been sequenced and annotated since 2000, sequencing of other important plants has proven challenging due to large genome sizes.
Since some plant genomes can be up to five times the size of a human genome, new strategies to identify and concentrate gene rich segments of these genomes will be necessary before large-scale sequencing can be attempted. And given the large amounts of data that will be generated from these large genomes, better data handling and storage tools will be needed as well. Already there is dissatisfaction with the available databases and software tools. Of the plant researchers surveyed in this study, only 5% were very satisfied with the bioinformatics tools presently available.
The ability to introduce foreign genes into plants, a process called transformation, has been an enabling technology for plant research in general and plant biotechnology in particular. Several transformation systems for plants exist, but the first one to be described and developed, Agrobacterium tumerfaciens, a natural gene transfer system, is still the predominant technique. Roughly the same percentages of respondents use electroporation and bolistics (40% and 37% respectively); only 6% use microinjection, attesting perhaps to the difficulty of the technique.
While the life science industry is meeting the needs of plant genomic researchers in the area of transformation, one third of survey responders expressed a desire for more plant specific kits and reagents. At the top of the list of kits currently lacking were RNA purification kits (15%) and protein expression (13%). "Plant researchers are rightfully complaining that the lack of plant specific kits negatively affects their productivity since they have to spend extra time and effort to optimize kits targeted at the mammalian market," observes Tamara Zemlo, Ph.D., MPH, and Director of the Science Advisory Board.
The Science Advisory Board is an online panel of more than 13,600 scientists, physicians and other life science and medical professionals from 62 countries. By convening electronically, Science Advisory Board members participate in online studies to voice their opinions on issues that directly affect the evolution and development of new technologies and products.
If you are interested in participating in studies on the tools and techniques of your profession, please register for our Research Panel at
http://www.scienceboard.net/register, or contact Molly Scott, Membership Coordinator, for The Science Advisory Board at firstname.lastname@example.org for membership information and study details. Your identity and personal information will be held in the strictest confidence, and you will receive compensation for any studies in which you choose to participate.
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