Int. J. Dev. Biol. 57: 629 - 637 (2013)
doi: 10.1387/ijdb.130194hp
© UBC Press

Gene targeting in plants: 25 years later

Holger Puchta* and Friedrich Fauser

Botanical Institute II, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe, Germany

ABSTRACT Only five years after the initiation of transgenic research in plants, gene targeting (GT) was achieved for the first time in tobacco. Unfortunately, the frequency of targeted integration via homologous recombination (HR) was so low in comparison to random integration that GT could not be established as a feasible technique in higher plants. It took another 25 years and great effort to develop the knowledge and tools necessary to overcome this challenge, at least for some plant species. In some cases, the overexpression of proteins involved in HR or the use of negative selectable markers improved GT to a certain extent. An effective solution to this problem was developed in 1996, when a sequence-specific endonuclease was used to induce a double-strand break (DSB) at the target locus. Thus, GT frequencies were enhanced dramatically. Thereafter, the main limitation was the absence of tools needed to induce DSBs at specific sites in the genome. Such tools became available with the development of zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs), and a breakthrough was achieved in 2005 when ZFNs were used to target a marker gene in tobacco. Subsequently, endogenous loci were targeted in maize, tobacco and Arabidopsis. Recently, our toolbox for genetic engineering has expanded with the addition of more types of site-specific endonucleases, meganucleases, transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) and the CRISPR/Cas system. We assume that targeted genome modifica-tions will become routine in the near future in crop plants using these nucleases along with the newly developed in planta GT technique.


plant biotechnology, gene technology, synthetic nucleases, transformation, double-strand break repair

*Corresponding author e-mail: