Improving plant-resistance to insect-pests and pathogens: The new opportunities through targeted genome editing

D. S. Bisht, V. Bhatia and R. Bhattacharya,  Seminars in Cell & Developmental Biology,  96:65-76. 2019.

The advantages of high input agriculture are fading away due to degenerating soil health and adverse effects of climate change. Safeguarding crop yields in the changing environment and dynamics of pest and pathogens, has posed new challenges to global agriculture. Thus, integration of new technologies in crop improvement has been imperative for achieving the breeding objectives in faster ways. Recently, enormous potential of genome editing through engineered nucleases has been demonstrated in plants. Continuous refinements of the genome editing tools have increased depth and breadth of their applications. So far, genome editing has been demonstrated in more than fifty plant species. These include model species like Arabidopsis, as well as important crops like rice, wheat, maize etc. Particularly, CRISPR/Cas9 based two component genome editing system has been facile with wider applicability. Potential of genome editing has unfurled enormous possibilities for engineering diverse agronomic traits including durable resistance against insect-pests and pathogens. Novel propositions of developing insect and pathogen resistant crops by genome editing include altering the effector-target interaction, knocking out of host-susceptibility genes, engineering synthetic immune receptor eliciting broad spectrum resistance, uncoupling of antagonistic action of defense hormones etc. Alternatively, modification of insect genomes has been used either to create gene drive or to counteract resistance to various insecticides. The distinct advantage of genome editing system is that it can knock out specific target region in the genome without leaving the unwanted vector backbone. In this article, we have reviewed the novel opportunities offered by the genome editing technologies for developing insect and pathogen resistant crop-types, their future prospects and anticipated challenges.