Researchers at North Carolina State University have successfully transferred a gene from one part of a plant cell to another to create tobacco plants that cannot produce pollen or viable seeds. The researchers believe that this technique could be used to improve hybrid seed production in crops or to develop seedless fruits such as raspberries, blackberries, and muscadine grapes. The team began by working with the mitochondria, the energy-producing part of the cell. They moved an essential gene called atp1 from the mitochondria to the nucleus and controlled its expression using a promoter. This resulted in the plants growing normally but failing to produce pollen. The native atp1 gene was then permanently removed from the mitochondria using genome editing tools. Unexpectedly, the tobacco plants also produced small, hollow seeds when cross-fertilized with pollen from a normal plant. The researchers are now working to separate the pollen infertility and seedless traits. They plan to test the technique in other plant species, including tomatoes and rice, to assess its effectiveness in different crops. The study was published in Frontiers in Plant Science and was funded by Elo Life Systems and the NC State Plant Breeding Consortium. A patent for the technique has been filed.

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