CRISPR gene editing knocks out viruses responsible for billions of dollars in crop losses

Plumeria Whiteflies
Whiteflies congregating on a plant leaf look like dandruff. Credit: Epic Gardening

Viruses cause billions of dollars in losses for many food, feed, and fiber crops, including staples like wheat, rice, potatoes, cassava, beans, and plantains. In a scientific first, Washington State University researchers delivered a one-two punch to knock out these viruses, using [CRISPR-Cas9].

“Genome editing is one of the most powerful and groundbreaking developments in molecular biology, with potentially far-reaching applications in agriculture, biology, and medicine,” said Hanu Pappu, Samuel H. Smith Distinguished Professor and Chuey Endowed Chair in WSU’s Department of Plant Pathology.

In a recent article in the journal PloS One, Pappu and his collaborators showed that precise modifications of multiple genes of a virus at the same time both disabled the virus and made the plants highly resistant to disease.


“Commonly referred to as begomoviruses, these are some of the most destructive viruses of vegetable crops in tropical and sub-tropical countries around the world,” [Anirban Roy, a visiting scientist from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi] said. Begomoviruses are spread by whiteflies, a tiny insect that feeds on plants, making them extremely difficult to control.

Related article:  Viewpoint: Biologist Craig Mello knew about the CRISPR babies. Why his silence was 'not acceptable'

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