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May 16, 2007

Better genetic engineering and study of intracellular processes of plants

A team of Iowa State University plant scientists and materials chemists have successfully used nanotechnology to penetrate plant cell walls and simultaneously deliver a gene and a chemical that triggers its expression with controlled precision. Their breakthrough brings nanotechnology to plant biology and agricultural biotechnology, creating a powerful new tool for targeted delivery into plant cells.

Currently, scientists can successfully introduce a gene into a plant cell. In a separate process, chemicals are used to activate the gene’s function. The process is imprecise and the chemicals could be toxic to the plant. "With the mesoporous nanoparticles, we can deliver two biogenic species at the same time," Wang said. "We can bring in a gene and induce it in a controlled manner at the same time and at the same location. That’s never been done before."

And in the future, scientists could use the new technology to deliver imaging agents or chemicals inside cell walls. This would provide plant biologists with a window into intracellular events.

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