CRISPR Technology Set To Shape Future of Food Production

Dan Butler
Thu, 28 Jul 2016
Email Author

CRISPR technology is set to replace GMO as the future of food production after USDA gives it the green light. CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is generally more favoured as, unlike GMO, it does not introduce external DNA but simply manipulates the organism’s own genetic code.

The US Department of Agriculture has already given the green light to two crops modified with CRISPR – a type of corn and mushroom – by choosing not to regulate them like conventional GMOs. The company producing said corn, DuPont, expect to see the crop in farmers’ fields within the next 5 years.

Harvard geneticist George Church believes that crops modified using CRISPR are the most effective way of ending the war on GMOs, which he and many other industry experts claim is misguided.

CRISPR technology differs from GMO in that the modification method solely involves the organism’s own DNA and so doesn’t introduce external genetic material from another organism, such as a bacterium, which is the case for the GMO method. This means that one or two letters of a plant’s genetic code (A, G, C or T) can be swapped or removed to prevent the crop from turning brown.

“Changing a G to an A is very different from bringing a gene from a bacteria into a plant”, explained Church.

“DuPont views the USDA’s confirmation as an important first step toward clarifying the U.S. regulatory landscape and the development of seed products with CRISPR technology,” commented Neal Gutterson, vice president of research and development at DuPont Pioneer.

Researchers all over the world are currently using CRISPR technology to develop more crops, and experts state that the USDA’s latest decision is a positive development.

“If the USDA decides the first product does not require regulation, that would definitely be encouraging for the many people already using CRISPR,” commented Joyce Van Eck, an assistant professor at the Boyce Thompson Institute, shortly before the USDA announced its decision.

If the USDA decides the first product does not require regulation, that would definitely be encouraging for the many people already using CRISPR.

Since Crispr’s introduction in 2013, researchers have been experimenting with its genome-editing potential on a range of crops, including wheat, oranges and rice. “By the end of 2014, a flood of research into agricultural uses for CRISPR included a spectrum of applications, from boosting crop resistance to pests to reducing the toll of livestock disease,” explained Maywa Montenegro, agricultural expert and writer for science magazine Ensia.

“CRISPR technology holds the potential to significantly improve the future of crop resistance and productivity,” commented David West, senior partner at Challenge Advisory. “What is more, CRISPR may also go some way to dispelling the many unfounded fears over the safety of genetically modified food, and other GMOs, which numerous scientists have already discredited. Theses unsubstantiated fears threaten to impede the massive potential that genetic modification has in feeding our rapidly growing population.”