Major advances in crop yields are needed in the coming decades. However, plant breeding is currently limited by incremental improvements in quantitative traits that often rely on laborious selection of rare naturally occurring mutations in gene-regulatory regions. Here, we demonstrate that CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing of promoters generates diverse cis-regulatory alleles that provide beneficial quantitative variation for breeding. We devised a simple genetic scheme, which exploits trans-generational heritability of Cas9 activity in heterozygous loss-of-function mutant backgrounds, to rapidly evaluate the phenotypic impact of numerous promoter variants for genes regulating three major productivity traits in tomato: fruit size, inflorescence branching, and plant architecture. Our approach allows immediate selection and fixation of novel alleles in transgene-free plants and fine manipulation of yield components. Beyond a platform to enhance variation for diverse agricultural traits, our findings provide a foundation for dissecting complex relationships between gene-regulatory changes and control of quantitative traits.
Keywords: CRISPR/Cas9; QTL; breeding; cis-regulatory; domestication; flowering; fruit size; inflorescence; quantitative variation; tomato.
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