CRISPR in Agriculture: Boon For Farming

By Dr. Anjanabha Bhattacharya, Scientist, Mahyco

Last weekend, we were discussing the progress of technology, and innovation in agriculture. Therefore, there is no doubt left that new innovations are changing our every day life.

The technical advancement in science is fast progressing and scientists across the world are making disruptive breakthroughs in creating progressive innovations. One such technology is CRISPR-Cas, a gene editing technology (GE). CRISPR-Cas has been described as the greatest transformative technology of the year 2015, in the prestigious science journal Nature, has created a buzz in the agriculture sector.

 As a new crop breeding technique, gene editing helps scientists, improve crop germplasms by identifying and modifying undesirable traits or tailoring traits to evolving farming needs. In simple terms, let us say, this bio-engineering tool allows scientists, like me to tailor DNA, according to my need that too very easily, effectively and efficiently.

Another important aspect with CRISPR edited crops is the regulatory regime under which, it will operate world-wide. US regulators are focused on the final product obtained by any technology, rather than the process used to produce the same. Therefore, US regulators are treating genome edited crops as any other natural product at least for now, as the end product is non-GM. US regulators has also given go-ahead to non-browning mushroom, powdery mildew resistant wheat, waxy corn among others. Canada is another country, which has already allowed commercialisation of gene edited crops, an oilseed rape resistant to herbicide, albeit this oilseed rape is developed using another gene editing technology named RTDS (rapid trait development system) and not through CRISPR.

As the gene editing technology is new, fairly non-controversial till now, and therefore, public perception may be more acceptable towards GE. Private companies are seeing merit in investing in research and development of edited crops, creating a promising future for all stakeholders.

The development of new modified CRISPRs will have a positive effect in applications related to human therapeutics, editing malarial parasite to producing allergen free groundnut. Further, with the availability of engineered versions of the technology, will be bestowed with advantages like never before. This in turn can become game changer in various settings, including agricultural biotechnology and thus bringing sustainable solutions to our farming communities by focusing on our efforts towards doubling farm income by 2020. Farming communities will be the greatest beneficiary of the CRISPR-Cas revolution in time to come, if we let it.