Gene editing to lead a new agricultural revolution

Rory Riggs Chairman and CEO, Cibus
Photo: Canva
Photo: Canva

Non-GMO gene editing will enable farmers to have a better workplace and a more sustainable future.

Farming is at a major point of inflection. The challenges of climate change, the push back against crop protection chemicals and fertiliser combined with a growing global population is creating a near impossible challenge.

Today, there are global legislative efforts to reduce the negative environmental impact of traditional chemicals: fungicides, insecticides, herbicides, and nitrogen-based fertilisers that farmers use. These chemicals have had an amazing impact on farming productivity, but they have come at a cost, which include toxics in the water and algal blooms resulting from runoff, as well as a significant contribution to the emissions that cause climate change. Thus, at a time when farmers need these inputs the most, there is pressure to decrease their use.

Importance of gene editing

These pressures have highlighted the importance of gene editing. In agriculture, gene editing is the biological counterpart to crop protection chemicals. Gene editing technology was developed in response to concerns surrounding the use of GMO technology in farming.

Unlike GMO’s, which are based on transferring foreign materials or transgenes from one organism to another, the new gene editing approach operates entirely within a plant’s genome and results in genetic changes that are indistinguishable from those that would occur in nature or traditional breeding.

Because the traits from this technology are indistinguishable from traits from traditional breeding, regulators are increasingly recognising that it is non-GMO and clearing the way for it to be deployed globally without burdensome regulation. As this regulatory progress continues, gene editing is set to lead a new agricultural revolution.

An important reason for this revolution is its ability to develop a broad range of productivity traits. These are traits in plants that make crops more resistant to challenges like disease and insects by making the plants heathier and more resilient. The ultimate product of productivity traits is higher yields and the ability to lower inputs such as crop protection chemicals and fertilisers.

Potential productivity traits

Gene editing technologies enable a broad range of potential productivity traits that have eluded previous technologies such as disease resistance, nitrogen use and an array of insects or pests. White Mold Sclerotinia, for instance, is a fungus that can reduce canola yields by 50%. Plant breeders have failed to breed mold resistant crops because traditional technologies cannot achieve the number of genetic changes required for such resistance.

Recently gene editing produced a breakthrough in breeding a white mold resistant canola. The product holds the promise of tackling the challenge of white mold in multiple crops as well as, importantly, tackling plant disease more generally. The benefits are more than reduced fungicide purchases but also higher yields and reduced fossil fuel use.

More sustainable world for farmers

Farmers face many challenges, but they know doing right by the environment leads to a better workplace and more sustainable farming. Gene editing will enable them to address the environmental challenges of current farming practice while at the same time enabling them to increase yields and profitability. This is the promise of the new world of gene editing: a better, more sustainable world for farmers and improved global food security.

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