Domesticaton in the CRISPR era

The world’s food supply depends on about 150 plant speciesbut this number could increase, even considerably. In fact, 250 species are considered to be fully domesticated, while 7,000 are semi-domesticated and 50,000 are edible. In the genomic era domestication may not require centuries and millennia, as was the case in the early days of agriculture. The process could happen at an accelerated pace, within a few years, taking advantage of modern knowledge about useful traits and new tecnologies such as gene editing. 

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Editing down cancer risk in our favourite foods

I bumped into this video of Nigel Halford brilliantly explaining what the problem is with acrylamide in our food and how he recruited CRISPR to lower its content in wheat. Acrylamide is a highly undesirable processing contaminant discovered in 2002. “It’s a big issue for the food industry because it’s carcinogenic, at least in rodents, and probably also in humans, and has also effects on development and fertility”, he says when interviewed at the Euroseeds Congress 2022. 

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Wheat science and the climate crisis

How long will we have to wait for the first wheat varieties genetically edited to resist drought? We asked geneticists gathered in Bologna to discuss the future of pasta.  

The climate crisis threatens the grain that feeds the world. If you think this is an exaggeration, think again. Wheat scientists expect a 6-7% decline in yield for every degree increase in temperature. This a decrease we cannot take lightly, knowing that wheat is the most widely grown cereal in the world and provides two and a half billion people with 20 percent of their carbohydrates and protein.

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Plant editing gets easier with CRISPR loaded pollen

maisPollination is a natural way to deliver DNA into plant cells. So why not to use pollen as a vehicle for CRISPR machinery to start genome editing? HI Edit, as this approach is called, has been successfully tested by Syngenta in corn, Arabidopsis and wheat in the lab. Please see the paper just published in Nature Biotechnology by Timothy Kelliher et al., Jon Cohen’s piece in Science, and a quick guide to HI (haploid induction) from Current Biology. Leading wheat geneticist Cristobal Uauy of the John Innes Centre also showed high spirit, when asked for comment by email: “The possibility to genome edit any variety is revolutionary given that transformation is so difficult in many species. If I understand this correctly this would be a game changer as it would allow us to alter genes in elite cultivars.”