CRISPRing future harvests at DuPont

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CRISPR is set to make its commercial debut in maize fields in 2020. The honor (and burden) of probing the market, as the first product developed with the revolutionary technique for genome editing, is up to a kind of corn called waxy for the appearance of its kernels. Its starch is almost entirely amylopectin and almost zero amylose. Conventional waxy varieties already available to farmers have some yield drag due to the undesirable genetic baggage introduced by breeding. Conversely, DuPont Pioneer researchers created a waxy version of their best corn without yield drag or foreign DNA by editing out a gene for an enzyme that produces amylose. Amylopectin is used for the production of goods such as paper adhesives and food thickeners. What remains after its extraction is a protein flour that can be employed as feed. It may sound like a low-profile debut for the celebrated genome editing technology that is asked to succeed where GMOs have failed: gaining consumer confidence. But this is a deliberate strategy, as explained below by Neal Gutterson, DuPont Pioneer’s vice president of R&D. Continue reading

Is Italy’s agriculture ready for CRISPR?

viteGenome editing seems tailored for Italian agriculture as DNA can be modified without introducing foreign sequences and without destroying the legal identity of traditional cultivars. CRISPR could help developing plants more resistant to diseases, for example, avoiding at the same time bureaucracy and public perception problems that have slowed the adoption of GMOs. The stakes are high but some hurdles stand in the way. We have interviewed  Michele Morgante, geneticist from the University of Udine and President of the Italian Society of Agricultural Genetics.    Continue reading

Can you make a CRISPR Golden Rice?

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Golden Rice may be the best agricultural product from the biotech era before CRISPR. Unfortunately it’s caught in the GMOs redtape, and authorizations for commercial growing are still missing 17 years after its invention. This rice engineered to biosynthesize β-carotene could save lives and improve the health of people struggling with vitamin A deficiency in several regions of the world. If policymakers and consumers will give a warmer response to genome editing, in comparison with classic genetic engineering, could CRISPR solve the impasse by allowing the development of a new non-GM Golden Rice? We asked its inventors, Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer.

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Oldie but goodie. Sanjaya Rajaram speaks out

Sanjaya_Rajaram_WFPHe does not write pamphlets with easy recipes for a better world. He has spent more time in the fields than captivating audiences. However, it is a symptom of a cultural disease that few people know Sanjaya Rajaram – and many know Vandana Shiva. This former is an Indian agronomist, who won the 2014 World Food Prize, has picked up the torch of Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution who, in the second half of the last century, doubled grain production in much of the globe, as a result of better seeds, irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides. Rajaram has developed 500 new varieties of wheat grown in 51 countries. He came to Italy for the World Food Research and Innovation Forum promoted by the Emilia Romagna region. Continue reading

News review: edited crops in Science and Nature

news reviewThis week the royal couple of science journals have turned  the spotlight on CRISPR’s potential for agriculture. “Genome editors take on crops” and “CRISPR, microbes and more are joining the war against crop killers” are the titles respectively chosen by Science and Nature. The first one is a perspective by Armin Scheben and David Edwards from the University of Western Australia. “Improved crops are urgently needed to meet growing demand for food and address changing climatic conditions”, they write. The global population is expected to rise from 7.3 to 9.7 billion by 2050 and a global increase in crop production of 100 to 110% from 2005 levels will be required. Continue reading