Gene editing technology could revolutionize the way scientists breed high-yielding drought, disease and pest resistant, quality plant seeds, greatly reducing the time it currently takes to develop new varieties, said a panel of expert scientists at the 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, said Feng Zhang, the originator of the technology who is a core member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
CIMMYT [International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center] 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,” [said Kevin Pixley, who leads the Seeds of Discovery project and the Genetic Resources Program at CIMMYT]. “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.”
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