The Green Phoenix: A History of Genetically Modified Plants

By Paul F. Lurquin | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Direct Gene Transfer

By 1979, there was still no solid, published evidence that DNA-mediated transformation of plants was possible. This approach to plant genetic engineering is of course different from the Agrobacterium-mediated transformation system, in which a live vector (the bacterial cell) is necessary to achieve DNA transfer. It should also be remembered that in 1979, there was as yet no evidence that the Agrobacterium T-DNA would turn out to be an excellent vehicle for plant transformation. Therefore, DNA-mediated transformation (or direct gene transfer, as it would become known later) was an approach to an unsolved problem—a competing avenue to create engineered plants. What was happening with other eukaryotic systems at that time? Enormous progress had been made with yeast and animal cells, and there was no longer any doubt that DNA-mediated transformation was a reality in these systems. For example, transformation of yeast had been established in 1978 (Hinnen et al. 1978) and the construction of yeastE. coli shuttle plasmids based on the 2-micron nuclear plasmid had been published that same year (Beggs 1978). By 1979, mouse cells had been transformed with eukaryotic and prokaryotic DNA, and there was no doubt that totally heterologous sequences such as pBR322 (a bacterial cloning vector) and ɸX174 (a phage) could be integrated and replicated along with mouse chromosomal DNA (Wigler et al. 1979). Transformation of mouse embryos by microinjection with recombinant plasmids was published in 1980 (Gordon et al. 1980). In light of this, plant transformation was a poor prospect indeed—so poor in fact that a general review of the field of genetic transformation that came out in 1981 did not even make a single allusion to plant systems, and wisely so (Smith and Danner 1981). Nevertheless, many review articles were published by scientists interested in the DNA transformation of plants and, of course, these were totally speculative. An

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