Project Inspiration and Description

Climate Change

When considering climate change, it has presented as a serious threat to not just our planet, but to the environment and ecosystems in particular. Periods of episodic weather events, such as droughts, warmer summers and colder winters, have increasingly become more common over the years (Johnson et al., 2018). The rate of climate change is too accelerated for many species to adequately evolve and adapt to the environmental changes placed upon them, resulting in extinctions through the globe. Through the use of technology and biotechnology, we can begin to combat the effects of climate change, in particular crop sustainability. Crop sustainability is one of the main concerns of climate change. Recent studies suggest that changes in temperature and changes in drought stress result in significantly altered agricultural production and income loss (Environmental Protection Agency, 2016; Li et al., 2015). In efforts to strengthen crop sustainability, our team decided to genetically engineer plant genomes using a modified CRISPR-Cas9 system to over-express endogenous traits in hopes to create more resilient plants to climate change.

Why Genetically Engineer Plant Genomes?

Using a modified CRISPR-Cas9 system is a step in the right direction to lessen the effects of climate change on the environment and address the concerns of global food production. The modified CRISPR-Cas9 system, CRISPR activation (CRISPRa), alongside a molecular switch, will allow for the upregulation of specific stress-response genes. The altered expression of climate change resistant genes related to cold and drought resistance, is a possible long term solution for the effects of climate change on plants. The upregulated systems include a CRISPRa system that targets the promoter region of CLE18, and another CRISPRa system that targets the promoter region of ICE2. CLE18 provides an important climate change phenotype that is responsible for root growth. The upregulation of this promoter region would lead to enhanced root elongation. On the other hand, ICE2 is responsible for cold tolerance in plants. The upregulation of this promoter region would increase the cold tolerance in plants through elevating the level of lipids, and decreasing the level of carbohydrates. These genes can be manually upregulated through the human-mediated introduction of a chemical stimulus, ethanol.

The two CRISPRa systems will be modeled in the plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, to display the effectiveness of altering climate change resistant genes. Once the dCas9 protein is activated by the ethanol spray, there is an increase in expression of the dCas9 protein which in turn interacts with our genes of interest. The presence of longer roots and increased cold tolerance of the plant in their respective systems would indicate the system is working.

Project Motivation

As students at the University of Guelph, an agricultural-focused university, the climate crisis is a theme that strikes close to home. With agricultural research focusing on crop sustainability, it is important to analyse the factors that damage this goal. Targeting genes responsible for the expression of traits to combat negative factors will allow for greater success of crop yield in various conditions. With successful CRISPRa systems expressed in A. thaliana, the following research can easily be implemented into crops with more economic and social value. By modelling plants that are resistant in different climates, humans are another step closer to surviving this century’s climate crisis.


1. Environmental Protection Agency. Climate impacts on agriculture and Food Supply. EPA. (2016). Retrieved October 10, 2021, from
2. Johnson, N. C., Xie, S.-P., Kosaka, Y. & Li, X. Increasing occurrence of cold and warm extremes during the recent global warming slowdown. Nat. Commun. 9, 1724 (2018).
3. Li, T., Angeles, O., Radanielson, A., Marcaida, M. & Manalo, E. Drought stress impacts of climate change on rainfed rice in South Asia. Climatic Change vol. 133 709–720 (2015).

University of Guelph iGEM 2019