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RNA Demethylation Increases the Yield and Biomass of Rice and Potato Plants

Updated: Feb 24, 2022

It has been discovered that not only does RNA read the DNA blueprint but the cell itself also regulates the parts of the blueprint that are expressed. This happens by the placement of chemical markers on a specific RNA to control which types of proteins and how many proteins should be produced. A genetic change, targeting RNA to help crops yield more food and tolerate drought, has been observed by scientists from the University of Chicago, Peking University, and Guizhou University.

Professor Chuan He, the co-founder of the biotechnology company for developing anti-cancer medicines by targeting RNA modification proteins, and Professor Guifang Jia, an associate professor at Peking University, aimed to determine how this affected plant biology. Hence, they focused on the human RNA demethylase fat mass and obesity-associated protein (FTO) protein, the first known protein that erases chemical marks on RNA.

They inserted this gene for FTO into the rice plants and realized that the plants yielded 3 times more food in laboratory conditions and 50 percent more food in the real field. They also noticed that the plants with FTO insertion grew significantly larger with longer root systems, photosynthesized with more efficiency and even withstood better throughout the drought condition.

“The change really is dramatic” said Prof. He. He also stated that the simple modification resulted similarly to almost every type of plant he experimented so far. Scientists further explained that as FTO controls RNA N6-methyladenosine methylation, a significant process in modifying the RNA, it erases m6A RNA to reduce the signals that slows down the growth of the plants.

Prof. He claimed that as soon as scientists understand this method of inserting animal FTO gene into plants, it could be a novel way to produce modified plants. He said, “This is a brand new type of approach, one that could be different from GMO and CRISPR gene editing; this technique allows us to “flip a switch” in the plants at an early point in development, which continues to affect the plant’s food production even after we remove the switch. It seems that plants already have this layer of regulation, and all we did is tap into it. So the next step would be to discover how to do it using the plant’s existing genetics.”

Scientists believe that this breakthrough has the potential to solve the worldwide food shortage problems and lessen the pressure on agriculture and food industries. More research is needed, but it is a promising strategy that can promote plant growth and food yield, even in extreme conditions such as drought.

Edited by: Park, JiHye and Park, ChangMo

Reference Yu, Q., Liu, S., Yu, L., Xiao, Y., Zhang, S., Wang, X., Xu, Y., Yu, H., Li, Y., Yang, J., Tang, J., Duan, H.-C., Wei, L.-H., Zhang, H., Wei, J., Tang, Q., Wang, C., Zhang, W., Wang, Y., … Jia, G. (2021). RNA demethylation increases the yield and biomass of rice and potato plants in field trials. Nature Biotechnology. Retrieved from

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