Why is Plant Synthetic Biology Important?
Plant synthetic biology has great potential to improve sustainable bioproduction of globally important products; from foodstuffs to fibres to drugs. Advantages of plants over engineered microbes include their worldwide cultivation, their harvest on a giga-tonne scale and the existing precedent for genetically modified crops in many parts of the world. In addition to these applied benefits, plants raise interesting scientific questions and technical challenges around engineering pathways and interactions in multi-cellular, differentiating and developing organisms, adding complexity to current microbial experiments.
Plant synthetic biology is a young field and requires the development of tools and techniques to deal with additional complexity, such as improved genome editing, DNA synthesis and assembly at chromosomal or genomic scales. Supply of plant DNA parts is expected to increase rapidly, which is why the sharing and characterization of these components is a priority; particularly in the liverwort Marchantia, which appears to be a promising candidate for a plant synthetic biology model organism. Tools identified as necessary to support these developments include hardware and software for automation of high-throughput assembly and characterization, plant-relevant software models, data repositories and standards to increase interoperability of the parts and their associated data.
The Biology of Sex
In this special Cell Picture Show, presented by Current Biology, we pay homage to the fascinating biology of sex. Sex is a paradoxical phenomenon: not only because pleasure and pain are often so close together, but also because it’s such a fundamental aspect of life. Yet biologists are still trying to understand why it exists in the first place. Sexual reproduction is everywhere—nearly all life forms practice it one way or the other. But sex as we know it comes at a cost: because there are two sexes, the reproductive output is essentially cut in half (two individuals are needed to reproduce). So, there must be significant benefits to outweigh these costs, or else sex wouldn’t have evolved.
Many theories have been put forward for what these benefits might be—in particular, increased genetic variation and the protection against diseases and parasites that comes with it. But the deeper reasons for the ubiquity of sex are still not fully understood. All the more reason, we think, to marvel at the many ways that sex is implemented in biology. Nearly all of the plants and animals that we see around us are the product of the fusion of two gametes: the female oocyte and the male sperm or pollen. Bringing these gametes together is a game of baroque intricacy. Because reproductive success is its ultimate prize, evolution has led to a host of complex adaptations that underlie all steps of sex—from the differentiation of the sexes and the production and delivery of the gametes, all the way to the complex signals, rituals, and combats involved in finding the right mating partner.