In 1983 researchers demonstrated that they could insert new genes into a plant genome, using a natural species of soil bacteria called Agrobacterium tumefaciens.
The breakthrough was made simultaneously by three research groups, including Mike Bevan and Dick Flavell’s team at the Plant Breeding Institute (PBI) in Cambridge, which was funded by BBSRC’s predecessor the Agricultural and Food Research Council (AFRC). The genetic tools developed at PBI such as the BIN19 plasmid vector used to insert genes into plants, became freely available to academics, ensuring the technique was adopted by research groups around the world.
|US$14.84Bn||Value of the global agricultural biotechnology (GM) industry|
|2||Of the three most-cited papers in plant transformation research arose from research at PBI, which was funded by BBSRC’s predecessor|
|1700||Number of times Bevan’s 1984 paper describing the BIN19 vector has been cited|
"It’s still widely used now,” says Bevan. “It’s been the most widely used transformation vector, at least for basic research."
In the 30 years following the breakthrough, the technology has revolutionised plant and crop science research. It has enabled researchers to explore gene function and assemble plant gene libraries, furthering our understanding of how plants develop, adapt to their environment and fight off pests and diseases.
The work has also played a vital role in understanding the fundamental bioscience of plant development in species such as Arabidopsis, as well as the genetic basis of important crop characteristics. Plant breeders, both conventional and using genetic modification, are now incorporating this knowledge into new varieties with increased yield, nutritional status or disease resistance.
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Image: Joachim Müllerchen