Reducing the levels of select carcinogens in tobacco products
Tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) are nitrosation products of tobacco alkaloids that are produced during the curing and storage of tobacco. Two TSNAs, designated, NNN and NNK, among the most potent carcinogens found in tobacco products. We have devised multiple strategies to alter the genetics of the tobacco plant in a manner that greatly reduces the levels of NNN and NNK within the cured tobacco leaf.
Developing ultra-low nicotine producing tobacco varieties
Reduced nicotine tobaccos have great potential for use in smoking cessation, as cigarettes made from such tobaccos have been shown to help wean smokers off their habit. Nicotine-free tobaccos also represent the preferred background when tobacco is used as a platform for the production of pharmaceuticals, or as a biofuels feedstock. We are employing strategies to reduce the nicotine content in tobacco to levels lower than has been previously attained.
Genome editing in tobacco
Zinc Finger Nucleases
Rapidly advancing genome editing technologies have made it possible to alter the genome with high precision and in a manner where the end product contains no foreign DNA. We are using both the CRISPR-Cas9 system and custom-engineered meganuclease enzymes (Precision BioScience’s ARCUS technology) in tobacco both for basic gene function studies and to introduce harm reduction traits.
Genomics-based strategies to identify disease resistance genes in tobacco
Advances in high-throughput DNA sequencing and other genomics tools have greatly increased the ability to identify and characterize genes of agronomic interest, even in plant species with large, complex genomes such as tobacco. We are using next-gen sequencing technologies and advanced computational tools to identify chromosomal regions, and specific genes, within the tobacco genome that confer resistance to various viral or fungal pathogens.