Nicotiana benthamiana: the biology behind the magic

J Bally1, F Niam1, H Jung1, J Philips1, R Hellens1, K Narva2 and P Waterhouse1,3

  1. Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities, Queensland University of Technology, Australia
  2. Dow AgroSciences, Indianapolis, IN, USA
  3. University of Sydney, NSW, Australia

A single lineage of Nicotiana benthamiana is widely used as a model plant and has been instrumental in making revolutionary discoveries about RNA interference (RNAi), viral defence and vaccine production. It is peerless in its susceptibility to viruses and in its amenability in transiently expressing transgenes. We have acquired wild accessions and compared them with the laboratory strain. It seems that the Lab strain of N. benthamiana originates from a small population, not far from Wolf Creek in outback Australia, and has acquired a mutation in an important defence pathway gene. It has retained this mutation for 750,000 years as a trade-in for early vigour. We have been engineering the nuclear and chloroplast genomes of N. benthamiana by conventional breeding, RNAi, and CRISPR. Using these techniques and technologies we have conferred a wide spectrum virus resistance, enhanced insect resistance, and altered fatty acid metabolism. We are also expressing sentinel reporter genes to measure recombination frequencies. The successes and challenges of these technologies and the amazing qualities of the plant will be discussed.