Plant synthetic biology toolbox: An OpenPlant platform

Project title: Plant synthetic biology toolbox: An OpenPlant platform

Application Domain: Chemicals & Fibres

The challenge

Traditional genetic engineering studies in plants are time-consuming, complicated and cannot be readily scaled up. The reason is that mutant or stably transformed plants need to be generated via traditional means to study the effect of particular gene modifications on specific traits of interest. In addition, many crop species exhibit complex genomes and long generation times. As a result, usually takes several months to over a year are needed to obtain desired mutant or transgenic plants. This represents a significant bottleneck in the development of new crop varieties, tailored to meet future agricultural needs in an ever changing environment.

Our response

The aim of this project is to establish a world’s first plant synthetic biology platform, amenable to high throughput screening for a variety of future output traits. The strategy is to develop a workflow that allows to work at the individual cellular level relying on transient expression assays for quick trait prediction. The platform we are developing combines transformation of expression libraries of interest in plant protoplasts, followed by fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) and single cell sequencing. This workflow will allow us to screen complex genetic libraries in a single reaction for a specific agricultural trait in a matter of days, as opposed to several years that are needed by conventional means.


Due to a variety of applications in a range of agricultural fields and a leapfrog in screening throughput, we anticipate our platform to become a cornerstone for future disruptive re-design of plant biological systems following iterative rapid ‘design-build-test-learn’ cycling. Potential impact areas are the development of novel strategies to combat (a)biotic stress in plants or plant metabolic engineering for increasing the production of food, biofuels, metabolites and therapeutic molecules.


The team comprises of CSIRO: Thomas Vanhercke (Project leader), Surinder Singh (Group Leader), Nathalie Niesner (RPO), Lauren Venugoban (RPO), Cheryl Blundell (RPO, in-kind), Benjamin Pouvreau (ResearchPlus PDF, in-kind), Taj Arndell (ResearchPlus PDF, in-kind); and partners with SynCTi (National University Singapore; Sanjay Swarup, Matthew Chang), Macquarie University (Tom Williams; Ian Paulsen), University of Western Australia (Ryan Lister, Brendan Kidd) and Australian National University (Harpreet Vohra, Stephanie Palmer).