Gene editing technology holds potential to revolutionize the way scientists approach plant breeding, according to a new article in SeedWorld. A panel of expert scientists took on this subject at the recent Borlaug Dialogue conference in Des Moines, Iowa.
Using CRISPR-Cas9 to select or suppress desired traits in a genome is almost as simple as editing a Microsoft Word document on a computer, says Feng Zhang, the originator of the technology who is a core member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) scientists aim to use the breakthrough technology to help smallholder farmers in the developing world address food security, nutrition shortcomings and economic threats to their livelihoods caused by climate change, pests and disease. Additionally, they see the potential to reduce the use of pesticides, and to boost nutrition through bio-fortification of crops.
“We want sustainable agriculture that provides food and nutrition security for all, while enabling biodiversity conservation,” Pixley says. “CRISPR-Cas9 is an affordable technology that can help us close the technology gap between the resource rich and resource poor farmers of the world.”
CRISPR-Cas9 improved varieties could also reduce the risk of investing in fertilizers, grain storage or other technologies, thereby contributing to “double benefits” for smallholder farmers, Pixley says.
The technology has the potential to deliver huge benefits both to commodity crops and to non-commodity crops, known as “orphan crops.” But first, we have to make certain that these farmers will have access to the technology.
To ensure access to the technology, consumers, farmers and scientists in Africa must be involved, and questions about how new crops are regulated must be addressed, the scientists agreed.
“We must engage in regulatory work with stakeholders,” Taylor says. “African research centers and others around the world must be part of this conversation right now – communication and education about new technologies are essential.”