Seed developers including Monsanto Co. and DowDuPont Inc. have invested in gene-editing technology, which enables scientists to make precise changes to plants’ existing DNA. Executives say they’re also strategizing on how to introduce it to consumers without arousing the same fears and suspicion that followed the development of earlier biotech crops, which involved adding genes from other species.
James Collins, who heads DowDuPont’s agricultural division, said that gene editing is different because the technology can be used to make edits within a plant’s existing genetic code, without adding any outside genes.
For that reason, he said, gene-editing tools such as CRISPR-Cas9 and TALEN resemble the centuries-old process of breeding together different strains of plants to produce an improved version.
Persuading consumers to support gene-edited crops will require engaging them “at a very local level,” Mr. Collins said. The agriculture industry, he said, must communicate to people how a variety of corn, with its DNA edited to better resist drought, can help to feed a global population projected to rise to nearly 10 billion by 2050, for instance.
“You need context,” said [Hugh Grant, Monsanto’s chief executive]. Today, he said, “people are further and further away from the field, and further away from how food is produced.”
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