Plant science at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Categories: something fun
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Published on: May 30, 2014

Last week was the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the biggest event in the horticulture calendar. I’m not sure it counts as a plant science event (unfortunately – I would love to be able to go for GARNet!) but it is a good opportunity to communicate some great plant science to an interested public. This year Rothamsted Research and Fera sprung into action and produced Award-winning exhibits.

The exhibit from Rothamsted, designed by Nicky Seymour and inspired by work on oilseed rape flowers by Sam Cook and Jason Baverstock, was awarded a Silver Medal in the Discovery category. Sam and Jason’s research shows that some oilseed rape pests are put off by different colour flowers, and others can be controlled by reservoirs of natural predators in field margins full of wild flowers. Sam explained her work, which received coverage from the BBC and Farmers Weekly, on the UKBRC website last year.

RRes all
Images courtesy of Rothamsted Research

The Fera exhibit, Plants Need Passports Too, used the idea that plants are under threat from pests, diseases and invasive species. It explains some of the ways threats can creep into the country, and the regulations that aim to limit the damage. This video from Fera gives a guided tour of the Bronze Medal-winning garden.

plant passports
Fera Crown Copyright 2014


Goldenbraid 2.0: A Standardised DNA Assembly Framework

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Published on: May 27, 2014

As promised in my posts about the Plant Engine meeting I attended a couple of weeks ago (1, 2), here is Diego Orzaez to explain his GoldenBraid cloning method and online DNA assembly framework. Diego co-leads the Plant Genomics and Biotechnology Lab at the Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Plantas in Valencia, Spain. 



Engineering large multigenic constructs for Plant Synthetic Biology, such as complex metabolic pathways or intricate gene networks, requires efficient, flexible DNA synthesis and assembly technologies. Although custom gene synthesis is becoming increasingly affordable, the direct synthesis of large multigenic constructs remains prohibitive for most labs. Moreover, custom gene synthesis gives little room for combinatorial engineering, something that is highly valued by biotechnologists.

An alternative “building” strategy for multigene engineering is Modular Construction, that is, the fabrication of new devices by combination of prefabricated standard modules. Modular DNA Construction brings a number of advantages as speed, versatility, lab autonomy, combinatorial potential and often lower cost. As in any standardized methodology, the more users adopt the standard, the bigger the advantages.

GoldenBraid is a Modular DNA Construction method developed at the Plant Genomics and Biotechnology lab (IBMCP-Spain), especially designed for building exchangeable multigenic constructs for Plant Synthetic Biology. Routinely, 15-20 Kb constructs comprising 4-6 transcriptional units made of dozens of individual pre-fabricated modules (GBparts) can be created in few days. Longer constructs can be assembled with little additional effort.

To facilitate the process of genetic design using GoldenBraid, and to stimulate the exchange of genetic modules among laboratories, we have recently launched GoldenBraid2.0 (GB2.0), a web-based DNA assembly framework available at site. The GB2.0 webpage hosts the public GB2.0 database, an increasingly populated collection of pre-made “GBparts” that conform to the GB standard. An embedded software tool named GBdomesticator provides users with personalized lab protocols for creating their own collection of standard genetic parts. Users can always combine their own parts with those deposited in the public GB2.0 database. Moreover, building new GB2.0 multigenic constructs is highly facilitated by the GB assembler tool, a software package that assists in the design of new multigenic constructs.

We believe that adopting common standards and creating of public repositories of exchangeable genetic parts will speed up progress in Plant Biotechnology. If you are interested in this field, we encourage you to explore the webpages. The details of GB assembly system are described in the publications listed below, and there are tutorials online.

Comments on how to enhance community efforts towards the development of public repositories of standard DNA parts are most welcome, and can be addressed to



Plant synthetic biology in Europe

Categories: GARNet, synthetic biology
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: May 20, 2014


On 8-9 May I attended a meeting hosted by PlantEngine to discuss the idea of a synthetic biology repository in Europe. The presentations were varied and interesting, and hopefully the other delegates enjoyed mine (PDF) too,

The meeting was at VTT in Espoo, a city very close to Helsinki. The local host Heiko Rischer gave a brief introduction to VTT, which is a Finnish institute but has bases all over the world. VTT is very separate from the university system, and although fundamental research gets done there it has a big commercial focus and strong links to Finnish industry. For example, VTT developed Arctic cloudberry stem cell technology for cosmetics with the R&D team from Finnish skincare company Lumene Oy.

PlantEngine itself was introduced by lead PI Heribert Warczecha. It is a European network focused on enhancing capacity in plant metabolic engineering by activities like defining target pathways, disseminate new technologies, and setting standards. There are currently over 70 labs in 23 EU countries in the network. They run training schools and workshops, and fund short-term scientific missions – check it out if you’re looking for funding for a short research trip to another lab.

One of PlantEngine’s aims is to explore synthetic biology for engineering plant products, which is the reason for the meeting I attended. (more…)

Golden Gate cloning: Tips and resources

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Published on: May 14, 2014


Last week I was in Helsinki for a plant synthetic biology meeting, and I learned a lot about existing European synbio tools, resources and research. There’s a short Storify of Tweets from the meeting here, and I’ll do a round-up post very soon. But today I’m highlighting a tool presented at the workshop, which was also presented at our SynBio workshop last year and at PlantSci 2014 but still hasn’t really featured on this blog (rather remiss of me, I know).

The Golden Gate cloning and related MoClo systems were presented (PDF) by one of its inventors, Sylvestre Marillonnet, at our synbio workshop last year. Sylvestre has worked with Nicola Patron, Head of Synthetic Biology at The Sainsbury Laboratory, to make a MoClo toolkit and set of parts available on Addgene. The toolkit includes 39 parts encoding promoters and 5′ untranslated regions; antigenic tags; sub-cellular localisation signals; reporter genes; selectable marker genes; terminators; 3′ untranslated regions; a suppressor of silencing; and two linkers.

Unfortunately the paper describing the toolkit is behind a paywall, but I’ve been tipped off as to where to find all the practical information you need:

1. The supplementary data is accessible to anyone, and it is very informative. SD 2 and 4 list modules in the toolkit and parts kit respectively.

2. Nicola’s website, Synbio@TSL, has pages on how Golden Gate cloning works, making modules, and an assembly protocol.

3. Nicola presented the toolkit at PlantSci 2014 in May and her poster gives a good overview of the paper’s content: GG_Plant_Kit_Poster

Nicola has generated many other parts, which are listed on her website. Some of them can be obtained from Addgene, while others have to be requested from her lab. Synbio@TSL also has a nice introduction to synthetic biology, synthetic biology news, links to online resources and synbio centres, and guides to the major genome editing and DNA assembly techniques.

GoldenBraid is another modular cloning technique which has its own web resources and toolkit available. There’s a guest post coming up soon about that one though so no spoilers here!

The Golden Gate Toolkit is published in: Engler C, Youles M, Grüetzner R, Ehnert T-M, Werner S, Jones JDG, Patron N, Marillonnet S. (2014) A Golden Gate Modular Cloning Toolbox for Plants. ACS Synthetic Biology DOI: 10.1021/sb4001504

The MoClo system is published in: Weber E, Engler C, Gruetzner R, Werner S, Marillonnet S (2011) A Modular Cloning System for Standardized Assembly of Multigene Constructs. PLoS ONE 6(2): e16765. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016765

The GoldenBraid system was most recently published as: Sarrion-Perdigones A, Vazquez-Vilar M, Palací J, Castelijns B, Forment J, Ziarsolo P, Blanca J, Granell A, Orzaez D. (2013) GoldenBraid 2.0: A Comprehensive DNA Assembly Framework for Plant Synthetic Biology. Plant Physiol. 2013 162: 1618-1631. doi:10.1104/pp.113.217661

Image credit: Nicola Patron

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