SEED Conference Speaker Gözde Demirer on the Promising Future of Plant Genetic Engineering

Organized by AIChE’s Society for Biological Engineering (SBE),  the 2024 Synthetic Biology: Engineering, Evolution & Design (SEED) Conference will be held June 24–June 27 in Atlanta, GA, USA. Covering the field from its foundations to its commercial applications, SEED’s expert-led sessions offer insights into next-generation development strategies, incorporating perspectives from research institutions and industry. Reserve your spot by April 29 for best rates. Funding opportunities are also available to attend this event. 

We caught up with SEED conference speaker Gözde Demirer, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at Caltech, to discuss the future of plant genetic engineering, and what she’ll be speaking about at SEED.

What inspired you to do research in this field?

Plants have so much potential for food security, climate change, and environmental applications, but their genetic engineering is very challenging due to tool and biological knowledge limitations. When I started my Ph.D., I realized that plant engineering research has not been receiving the attention that it deserves, so I got very motivated and interested in developing tools that would enable and advance our plant genetic engineering efforts for food security and sustainability purposes. It was and is still thrilling to be at the forefront of this very important research field.

How do you envision this field solving some of the challenges in engineering and society?

Plant genetic engineering is highly promising for improving the productivity of crops and making them resilient to the changing climate and emerging diseases. The tools we develop for plant genetic engineering, focusing on cargo delivery, improved targeted gene insertion, and leveraging soil microbes for sustainable enhancement of plants, will enable easy and rapid genetic engineering of many crops while also benefiting the environment. Broadly, this research area stands to hugely benefit our future food security and sustainability.

Are there any new developments, technologies, or applications of technologies in this field that you are particularly excited about? 

I am very excited about the CRISPR-associated transposon (CAST) system and its application in plants that we have been working on over the last two years. Many new tools started to emerge recently for targeted gene insertion, and we are excited to translate these tools to plants. I am also very excited about the recent emphasis on plant-microbe interactions and engineering the communication between them for not only improving plant health, but also planet health at the same time through the use of more sustainable approaches for plant growth.

What is the one big takeaway that you would like audiences to gain from your talk? 

A lot of research is being conducted on developing new CRISPR genetic engineering resources for microbe and mammalian cells, however, progress in plants has been lagging behind. Targeted gene insertion in plants through Cas9-mediated homology directed repair (HDR) still has very low efficiency, preventing many impactful applications. We have translated the recent CRISPR-associated transposons system from microbes to plants, enabling high efficiency targeted gene insertion in plants for many downstream applications. We are currently working on improving the cargo DNA size and insertion efficiency.

Gain insight into next-generation development strategies from leaders in research and industry and register for SEED today. 

We may receive funding to help sponsor some registrations for SEED 2024. U.S.-based students, post-docs, and early-career professionals are encouraged to apply for a grant

About SBE

Established in 2004, the Society for Biological Engineering is a technological community for engineers and applied scientists integrating biology with engineering. Members of SBE come from a broad spectrum of industries and disciplines and share in SBE’s mission of realizing the benefits of bioprocessing, biomedical and biomolecular applications. Learn more about SBE.