Unlike transgenic technology, in which genes from other organisms are inserted for developing better crops, the CRISPR-Cas9 technique makes it possible to add, remove or alter genetic material so as to add a beneficial trait or remove a deleterious one. It is largely considered safe as no foreign genes are used to alter the plant genome in most cases.
CRISPR-Cas9 can modify genetic material in the genome, like other gene editing tools such as zing finger nucleases and Transcription activator-like effector nuclease. The difference is that the new method, adapted from a naturally occurring gene editing system in bacteria, does the job more accurately and efficiently, and is cheaper and faster.
India is still in the process of deciding whether to allow gene editing for better crops. “Indian scientists have been arguing that since SDN-1 and SDN-2 do not use any foreign gene, the crops developed using these methods should be treated as normal crops. Those developed using SDN-3 can be placed under GMO regulation,” says Chinnusamy Vishwanathan, Principal Scientist and Head of Department of Plant Physiology, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Delhi.