Engineered cell penetrating peptides for agricultural biotechnology

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About This Project

In light of population growth and a changing global climate, plants are at the core of our sustainability efforts, both at the levels of food availability and environmental remediation. Inevitably, engineering smarter plants will require creation of emerging technology to produce more prolific crops, more robust plants, and greater availability of food. To address these challenges, my lab is generating engineered cell penetrating peptides for a broad range of plant bioengineering applications.

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What is the context of this research?

Plants serve critical roles as crops, sources of medicines, engineering substrates for recombinant products, and as carbon-sinks. Population growth, climate change, and disease pose serious challenges to systems reliant on plants. The twin challenges of population growth and climate change exacerbate food insecurity due to increased demand and falling yields. Plant genetic engineering could rapidly expand the natural capabilities of our plants and crops and is therefore a core biotechnology tool for overcoming the aforementioned challenges. However, current methodologies of genetically manipulating plants are laborious and applicable to only a narrow range of species that often exclude our crops, thus new approaches and tools for plant genetic engineering are required.

What is the significance of this project?

My lab has generated preliminary data suggesting that engineered plant peptides could increase the throughput of genetic engineering and post-transcriptional manipulation of plants in a manner that is (i) plant species-independent, and (ii) works in plant germline tissues. Here, we propose to use our tools for plant germline cell genetic and post-transcriptional manipulation, a feat which is currently impossible for crops and would enable plant bioengineering without the lengthy and laborious process of plant tissue culture for plant regeneration. The ability to avoid plant regeneration with our engineered peptides would exponentially expedite plant biology research and agriculture, enabling the production of climate-robust crops within months or years instead of decades.

What are the goals of the project?

Plant bioengineering today is accomplished with one of two tools (agrobacterium and biolistics), and neither of these tools can deliver cargoes to plant germline tissues. As a result, all plant bioengineering has to go through plant tissue culture, a time-intensive process limited to a narrow set of species and genotypes, and sometimes regeneration isn’t possible for crops altogether. Our goal is to eliminate the need for plant tissue culture protocols that slow progress across agricultural biotechnology can only be ameliorated by a technology that enables genetic cargo delivery to plant germline tissues. To do so, we will test engineered peptides for plant germline bioengineering, which will enable genetic manipulation of plants ~10-fold faster than currently attainable.


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Our budget is based on a $50,000 annual allocation over a 2-year project term:

Postdoctoral Researcher (Juliana Matos): Dr. Matos is a postdoctoral researcher from Brazil with expertise in plant genome editing and crop biotechnology. Dr. Matos will assist the PI in conducting research and contribute to the drafting and dissemination of results. 12 months at 50% salary and benefits is requested for the Postdoctoral Researcher each year: $37,393.

Conference Travel: $1,000 is requested each year for travel to the American Society for Plant Biology.

Lab materials and supplies: $10,000 is requested in year 1 and 2 for lab supplies and consumables to perform experiments and analysis.

Computational efforts: $1,607 is requested each year for computer cluster access.

Project annual budget: $50,000

Indirect costs: 10% IDC costs which constitute $10,000 of the total budget per year.

Project total budget: $100,000 + $10,000 IDC

Project Timeline

Objective 1. Month 1-8: Design and synthesize engineered plant cell penetrating peptides. Month 9-12: Assess cell penetrating peptides’ plant cell internalization efficiencies.

Objective 2. Month 13-16: Test delivery and function of transcription factors in plant somatic tissues (leaves, roots) and in plant germline tissues (microscpores). Month 16-19: Test delivery of siRNA in microspores.

Objective 3. Month 20-24: Deliver Cas12a with engineered cell penetrating peptides.

Apr 01, 2024

Identify top engineered cell penetrating peptide

Jun 01, 2024

Conjugate cell penetrating peptides to RNA cargoes

Jun 01, 2024

Conjugate cell penetrating peptides to protein cargoes

Jan 01, 2025

Deliver transcription factors to plant somatic tissues

Jan 01, 2025

Deliver siRNA to plant somatic tissues

Meet the Team

Markita Landry
Markita Landry
Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Team Bio

Juliana Lima Matos is a postdoctoral scholar at UC Berkeley with a PhD in plant biology.

Markita Landry

Markita Landry is an associate professor in the department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. She received a B.S. in Chemistry, and a B.A. in Physics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D. in Chemical Physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Additionally, she has held interim research positions at the Biophysics Institute at the Technical University of Munich, and at the center for nanobiosciences at Osaka University.

Her current research centers on the development of label-free sensors using nanoparticle-polymer composites, and engineered peptides for plant bioengineering. She has been awarded over 30 early career awards from the NARSAD foundation, the Beckman Foundation, and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, among others.

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