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CRISPR gene-editing can help turn Africa’s low-yielding rice varieties into sustainable staple crops

| | March 12, 2020
Farm Field Asia Plant Rice Nature Agriculture e
This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

African Oryza glaberrima and Oryza sativa landraces are considered valuable resources for breeding traits due to their adaptation to local environmental and soil conditions. They often possess superior resistance to endemic pests and tolerance to drought and nutrient deficiencies when compared to the “imported” high production Asian rice varieties.

In contrast, “domestication traits” such as seed shattering, lodging, and seed yield are not well established in these African landraces. Therefore, the use of these African varieties for high production agriculture is limited by unpredictable yield and grain quality.

Importantly, our data show that the accelerated domestication approach by simultaneously stacking multiple mutant combinations through CRISPR-Cas technology provides a means for rapid domestication of African landraces that have traits making them more suitable for sustainable agriculture.

Related article:  Tanzania denies allegation it outlawed GMO crop research

Interestingly, by applying the latest CRISPR mediated base-editing technologies it will not only be possible to obtain harvest increases by knocking out negative regulators of yield, as shown in this study, but it will also allow the introduction of any kind of favorable mutation. Altogether if these tools can be introduced in plant cells, they will empower fast adaptation of orphan and neglected crops to facilitate their use in modern high yielding agriculture practices.

Our study provides an example of how new breeding technologies can accelerate the development of highly productive African landrace rice varieties, an important advancement considering that Africa is a hotspot for worldwide population growth and therefore prone to food shortage.

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