When people mention CRISPR, they’re usually breathless over its potential to cure diseases like sickle cell anemia and muscular dystrophy. But CRISPR’s most promising application might not be in health care. It might be in food.
Before CRISPR, adding a trait like insect resistance to a plant was imprecise, slow, and costly. Traditional breeding methods introduce unwanted characteristics; GMO technology that inserts genes from other organisms comes with regulatory hurdles and public blowback. With CRISPR, scientists can tweak only the genes they need without introducing foreign DNA. The biotechnology company Calyxt, working on CRISPRed products like high-fiber wheat, estimates that with typical GMO technology, its products would take 13 years to reach the market. With genome editing? Three to six years.
That’s why Jennifer Doudna, one of the inventors of CRISPR technology, has said she believes CRISPR’s swiftest impact will be on agriculture.
[M]any scientists believe the technology will ultimately be liberating, as its cheapness and simplicity lets them target problems without needing funding from those powerful companies.
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