While supersizing meals has helped to expand the waistlines of many a human “couch potato,” a seriously sumptuous new study has established that RNA demethylation induced via the expression of the human RNA demethylase FTO in potatoes results in a supersizing that could help end world hunger.
The transformation of exogenous and endogenous genes has prompted higher crop yields; but now, ravenous researchers led by Baoan Song (Guizhou University, China), Chuan He (The University of Chicago, USA), and Guifang Jia (Peking University, China) have explored the impact of the epitranscriptome on crop production. In the hope of feeding the world, the authors evaluated the overexpression of human RNA demethylase FTO (fat mass and obesity-associated) gene in rice and potatoes (as examples of monocot and eudicot plants), which would induce RNA demethylation and strip plant RNAs of the N6-methyladenosine (m6A) modification.
Is anyone hungry for some RNA demethylation? Chomp down on the tastiest morsels from this supersized saliva-producing new study from Yu, Liu, and colleagues:
- FTO expression dramatically increases the yield of rice grown in greenhouse conditions and the yield and biomass of rice and potato 50% in “field” trials
- The expression of FTO generates larger root numbers and length, induces tiller bud formation (an above-ground branch that contributes to seed yield through carbon capture and partitioning), and improves photosynthetic efficiency and drought tolerance
- Liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) combined with m6A methylated RNA immunoprecipitation (MeRIP) sequencing revealed a ~7% decrease in m6A levels on poly(A) RNAs and a ~35% decrease in m6A levels on non-ribosomal nuclear RNA following FTO expression
- The reduction in m6A levels induces both the formation of permissive chromatin at gene loci (assayed by DNase I-TUNEL assays) and the elevated production of tissue-specific mRNA species (assayed by quantitative RNA-seq) that contribute to improvement in crop yields
- FTO expression also notably induces the expression of repeat RNA species, which may associate with the creation of a permissive chromatin landscape
This delectable dish of epitranscriptomic data demonstrates how RNA demethylation regulates the chromatin landscape and gene transcription in plants and provides robust evidence that altering the epitranscriptome in important crops represents an exciting way to “supersize” yields.
“Even beyond food, there are other consequences of climate change,” said co-leader author Chuan He. “Perhaps we could engineer grasses in threatened areas that can withstand drought. Perhaps we could teach a tree in the Midwest to grow longer roots, so that it’s less likely to be toppled during strong storms. There are so many potential applications”.
If you are hungry for more tasty treats from this perfectly palatable paper, head over to Nature Biotechnology, July 2021.