The First Steps in the Genetic Improvement of Goji (Lycium barbarum)
Goji (Lycium barbarum) is a member of the Solanaceae family alongside tomato, potato, and pepper. Goji berries possess a wide range of reported health benefits in Chinese traditional medicine (including antioxidants and antidiabetic effects). As such, it has become regarded in the United States as a “superfruit.” However, the delivery of fresh goji berries to the United States has been hampered by growth and harvesting issues that diminish the economic and agricultural viability of L. barbarum, namely its 3-year vegetative period before fruit are produced and its tall, drooping height that requires pruning and other management. With the expertise and materials available in the Van Eck lab, we aim to improve these issues. We generated an in vitro regeneration protocol by measuring “shooty” callus development on 3 sets of media containing different concentrations of 6-benzyladenine (BA, a synthetic cytokinin) and α-napthaleneacetic acid (NAA, a synthetic auxin). We determined that in vitro regeneration occurs most efficiently with hypocotyl sections on media containing 2 mg/L BA and 1 mg/L NAA. After this finding, we began the first steps in genetic improvement of L. barbarum using Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. CRISPR-Cas9 constructs were designed to knockout SELF PRUNING (SP) and SELF-PRUNING 5G (SP5G), two homologs partially responsible for plant architecture and day-length sensitivity, respectively.
Spending the summer living in Ithaca and working in the Van Eck lab has been an incredibly transformative experience. I expanded my scientific knowledge greatly beyond my previous classroom experiences. Even with no background in plant science, I found myself comfortable and excited learning about the background of both my project and my new friends’ projects. I learned invaluable molecular and tissue culture techniques that I will surely carry forward into my future. Moreover, I learned what it means and feels like to be a true scientist, working full time on a committed, valuable project.
Outside the laboratory, my time spent in Ithaca has been one of the best summers of my life. I have found myself surrounded by an incredibly diverse and friendly group that has made my time much more fun than I could have imagined. Hiking, eating, and dancing with this group has formed bonds that I hope to carry far into the future. I highly recommend any interested student to apply to the BTI program with no hesitation.