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Gene Gun Blasts New Genes into Garlic

By Linda McGraw
May 7, 1998

Garlic plants with traits new to this crop may dot future home and commercial gardens if Agricultural Research Service scientists succeed in applying a system they developed to transfer genes.

ARS scientists have taken the first step toward this goal by applying molecular tools developed for transferring genetic traits in other crops, such as corn. They’ve transferred marker genes via a blast from a gene gun.

In their experiments, they moved bacterial genes into garlic. But these genes that only serve as markers to let the researchers know the gene transfer method succeeded.

The next step: insert useful genes for traits like virus resistance. This could provide long-term protection against disease in future generations of the crop. For example, each year, onion yellow dwarf virus reduces garlic yields of infected plants by 30 to 50 percent, representing a serious economic loss for garlic growers around the world.

Although the disease was first found in onions, it actually causes more loss to garlic. The disease produces thin, yellow leaves. Garlic is totally susceptible to damage from this virus, which is transmitted by insects.

ARS scientists say this preliminary work is a first step to introducing useful new traits, such as virus resistance, in garlic and onions.

Scientific contact: Philipp W. Simon, Vegetable Crops Research, Madison, Wis., phone (608) 262-1248 or (608) 264-5406, fax (608) 262-4743, psimon@facstaff.wisc.edu.

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