CRISPR technology, an alternate strategy for crop improvement, could prove to be a game changer!
New Breeding Techniques (NBTs) are innovative tools that edit the genes within species, thusenabling plant breeders to develop novel plant varieties. One of the recent and promising NBT technique is CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats)which allowsresearchers to disable a gene or add a desirable trait by modifying a gene in a specific place in a genome. It has its advantages over conventional breeding in terms of precision, speed, cost and regulation.
Recently, USDA made a decision that they will not place CRISPR edited product, waxy corn (containing high amylopectin), developed by DuPont Pioneer under regulatory process. This decision is likely toopen the gate for more CRISPR edited products from other organizations. These include non-browning mushrooms developed by knocking out genes that encode polyphenol oxidase (developed by Penn State University), canola (herbicide tolerant), maize (drought tolerant), wheat (disease resistance and hybrid technology), soybean (oil quality), rice (disease resistant), potato (improved storage quality), tomato (fruit ripening), peanuts (allergen-free) and many more. CRISPR genome editing technology is being used in many laboratories, globally, to develop improved crops and animals.
Although the US has exempted CRISPR edited products from regulatory process, other countries are yet to take a stand on this issue. Argentina will review all gene edited products on a case by case basis. Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Republic of Korea, South Africa and Brazil are still reviewing the process of the regulatory status of NBTs. Few countries like Russia and China are reluctant to discuss any subjects related to NBTsat this time, while in India the status of regulation of NBT based products, is being discussed. The benefits of this technology cannot be realized by society unless it is ensured that regulation of genome-edited derived crops are science/evidence-based and to the extent possible, harmonized globally.
Genetic modification (GM) of crops still faces a number of challenges despite GM crops being grown commercially for almost 20 years and now being grown by 18 million farmers in 28 countries. It is just one technology that can contribute to crop improvement and has been controversial, despite often resulting in crops which are similar in many ways to those produced by other conventional methods. One reason for this controversy is the perceived lack of precision with the technique and concerns that the process may result in an unexpected outcome due to the inserted foreign DNA. On the contrary, CRISPR offers an alternate option where modification/editing is done within the plant without inserting any foreign gene. For these reasons genome editing will be favored to traditional GM technologies. Furthermore, time-consuming and tedious regulation for transgenic biotech crops remain the major constraint to adoption, which is particularly important for many developing countries. Adoption of CRISPR offers new opportunities to develop crops with enhanced traits of high yield as well as biotic and abiotic resistance which helps in addressing the future food security needs of the country.