Next-generation multi-targeted CRISPR genetic toolbox to reveal hidden traits and accelerate crop breeding

Prof. Eilon Shani and Prof. Itay Mayrose

School of Plant Sciences and Food Security, Faculty of life sciences

The need to accelerate crop breeding programs has never been greater, as the world population is exponentially increasing, the climate is changing, and resources are limited. Breeding relies on genetic variation. However, it is impossible to alter many phenotypes by introducing genetic variation in a single gene due to large gene families with high functional redundancy.
For example, in tomato and rice, ~80% of coding genes belong to multi-gene families. Therefore, in many cases, mutating multiple gene family members is required to
uncover “hidden” traits that are important for plant resilience and food security. Currently, there is no approach or technology that can dig into the hidden genetic redundancy at a genome-scale level (unbiased forward genetics) and reveal masked agricultural traits. To address these challenges, we developed the Multi-Crop technology -the first genome-scale multi-targeted CRISPR libraries in crops. We have constructed, validated, and patented the approach in Arabidopsis, tomato, and rice, demonstrating that the Multi-Crop technology can uncover hidden genetic traits and is the future of plant breeding programs.
Not only is this the first demonstration of a large-scale, multitargeted CRISPR technology in plants, but the unique approach also overcomes functional gene redundancy
under any given conditions, such as the response to drought, pathogen, fruit size, and more. Multi-Crop can be applied to most crops and all breeding traits. Therefore,
we expect the new toolbox we develop here to transform how scientists and breeders perform genetics.