Creating a novel viral vector for genome editing in maize and sorghum

Contrary to expectation, viruses can be beneficial for plant health. Prof. Anna Whitfield is employing viral vectors for genome editing in maize with the goal of introducing traits for better resistance against drought, disease, and more. View Halo Profile >>

Tell us about your research.

Plant viruses are powerful tools for delivering molecules to their plant hosts. We created an infectious clone of a plant rhabdovirus that can be used as a viral vector for maize and sorghum. This groundbreaking technology for genome editing in maize can facilitate experiments to improve crop resistance to biotic and abiotic stressors.

We aim to engineer a plant virus to carry beneficial proteins and/or RNA to plants with the goal of protecting plants from stressors such as drought, diseases, and pests.

Can you explain that to a non-scientist?

Viruses can be used as a vehicle for delivery of molecules such as nucleic acid and protein. We aim to engineer a plant virus to carry beneficial proteins and/or RNA to plants with the goal of protecting plants from stressors such as drought, diseases, and pests. By introducing the protein and RNA needed for genome editing, we can create plants that have traits that would be beneficial to farmers and consumers.

Why did you choose this area of research?

Although I study molecular virology, my goal is to always keep ‘one foot in the furrow.’ Growing up on a small, family farm, I learned first-hand about threats to U.S. agriculture and the economic, societal, and psychological impacts of destructive plant and animal viral diseases to farming communities. My career goal is to develop technologies that will increase food security and reduce harm to farm workers and the environment.

My career goal is to develop technologies that will increase food security and reduce harm to farm workers and the environment.

How could your Grants4Ag project someday impact #healthforall #hungerfornone?

Maize is a major crop in the United States and throughout the world. The development of a robust and stable virus vector could enable us to cut years off the current maize improvement pipeline. The ability to modify a plant phenotype in a single crop cycle would greatly facilitate the identification and deployment of beneficial traits to increase crop yields and plant resilience to stress.