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
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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.

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“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.

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