Archive for the ‘Gene editing’ Category

Status of Gene Editing Use in Public Canadian Crop Breeding

In Spring 2021, Health Canada released proposed new guidance for the Novel Food Regulations, specifically focused on plant breeding, and conducted an open consultation seeking feedback from both industry stakeholders and general Canadian public. This move reflects the government’s intent to establish a predictable commercialization pathway in preparation for new products that are developed using new plant breeding techniques, more specifically, “gene editing” (GEd) techniques.

Nov 17, 2021

In Spring 2021, Health Canada released proposed new guidance for the Novel Food Regulations, specifically focused on plant breeding, and conducted an open consultation seeking feedback from both industry stakeholders and general Canadian public.  This move reflects the government’s intent to establish a predictable commercialization pathway in preparation for new products that are developed using new plant breeding techniques, more specifically, “gene editing” (GEd) techniques. 

Crop breeders have been using genetic improvement technologies for decades, picking up tools that enhance their ability to effect change as they see a fit in their programme.  Many tools have been developed to assist plant breeders in developing new cultivars that deliver higher yields, are more resistant to biotic and abiotic stresses, and are better adapted to changing environmental conditions.  Most recently, the Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats method (CRISPR/Cas9) of GEd has been touted to have great promise due to its immense versatility and the relative ease with which it can be used.  While policymakers are reviewing laws and regulations to anticipate an “imminent” shift towards the use of these kinds of technologies, our research showed that the CRISPR/Cas9 technology is yet to be widely adopted by public crop breeding programs in Canada. This policy brief explores the reasons behind the slow uptake and presents policy recommendations that could enable breeders to make GEd tools part of their ‘toolbox,’ should they choose to make use of them.

Environmental Scan

We screened the peer-reviewed and public access publications of public Canadian crop breeders for evidence of GEd use and found only two instances of CRISPR/Cas9 proof-of-concept applications. This finding seems inconsistent with the findings of a recent survey by Gleim et al. 2020 [1], which shows that both public and private Canadian crop breeders are aware of and knowledgeable about CRISPR/Cas9. Therefore, to get a better understanding of the status of GEd use by public breeding programs in Canada, we interviewed crop breeders from six Canadian universities.  Some crop breeders we interviewed reported using CRISPR/Cas9 in their research activities but not in their breeding programs. No other GEd technique was reported as being used among public Canadian crop breeders at this time. CRISPR/Cas9 use remains low for several reasons.  

First, asked directly about the existence of barriers (internal or external) to the use of GEd at their host institution, few could identify any specific barriers. It is noteworthy that a significant number of breeders admitted that they were not knowledgeable about the specific rules of their host institution regarding the use of GEd tools.

Second, a concern of most breeders was that even if they successfully developed a trait through GEd, they might not be able to navigate Canada’s regulatory regime in order to bring the resulting crop to market. This uncertainty makes breeders apprehensive about using GEd in their breeding programmes.

Third, pressed on their lack of use of novel crop breeding technologies, a significant number of breeders noted that consumer perceptions were an important factor in their decision about whether to use a new technology in their breeding program. Many breeders asserted that they would not use GEd technologies yet because consumer opinions about these remain largely unknown. One breeder suggested that given that there is no difference between a trait developed through certain GEd techniques or conventionally derived traits at a whole-genome level, reporting on GEd applications might not be strictly necessary in Canada.  Meanwhile, critics that are against Health Canada’s recent Novel Food Regulations revision proposal are quick to tie GEd with genetically modified food [2].    

Fourth, some respondents asserted that while GEd could be powerful tools, they are not necessarily the appropriate tool for every crop breeding objective. In fact, for some crops (e.g., lentils and sunflower), GEd and CRISPR/Cas9 specifically, are not viable tools because of the biological complexity underpinning their most important traits and additional laboratory steps to which they are recalcitrant. In addition to these concerns, all crop breeders emphasized that to be able to use GEd appropriately a thorough understanding of the plant’s genome is needed. Functional genomics is the field that concerns itself with understanding the relationship between the information contained in an organism’s genome and its physical characteristics [3]. This field was born 20 years ago when the human genome was first sequenced; it then became clear that the next step in biology was to understand the function of genes [4]. Twenty years on, moving from phenotype (traits) to genotype (genetic base) remains difficult because the biological mechanism that translates between them has yet to be fully understood, especially for crops with more complex genomes – for example, lentils and sunflower.

Who owns CRISPR/Cas9 in Canada?

Beyond these issues, the use and application of GEd in Canada trips over questions of intellectual property. Specifically, ownership of CRISPR/Cas9 technology has not yet been established in Canada [5]. While over 3,400 patents and pending patent applications refer to CRISPR/Cas9, there are three competing claims over the foundational technology open in Canada (Table 1). To commercialize technologies that use CRISPR/Cas9 in Canada, licenses to the foundational patents and particular applications would be needed [6]. But from whom? While basic research or proof-of-concept studies often proceed without license, if they generate new traits of value they could be subject to retroactive licensing once patents are issued, which could significantly reduce the bargaining power of the inventor. For that reason, many researchers and crop breeders could understandably avoid using the technology.

Table 1. Parties Claiming CRISPR system ownership in Canada

Patent ApplicationTitleInventorsApplicantPCT Filing Date
CA3081937Type V Crispr/Cas Effector Proteins For Cleaving Ssdnas And Detecting Target DnasDoudna, Jennifer A.
Chen, Janice S.
Harrington, Lucas Benjamin Ma, Enbo
The Regents of the University of California (United States of America)2018-11-20
CA2930877CRISPR-CAS System Materials and MethodsCharpentier, Emmanuelle
Chylinski, Krzysztof
Fonfara, Ines
CRISPR Therapeutics AG2014-11-17
CA 2932439CRISPR-CAS Systems and Methods For Altering Expression Of Gene Products, Structural Information And Inducible Modular Cas EnzymesZhang, Feng
Zetsche, Bernd
The Broad Institute & the Massachusetts Institute of Technology2014-12-12
Source: CIPO [4]
Notes: All three parties have filed a patent claim with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). As per current regulations, ‘CRISPR Therapeutics AG’ requested their application be ‘examined’ five years after their initial submission on 2019-11-18. It is now up to CIPO to consider the merit of their claim.


The decision of whether or not to use GEd technologies is but one factor in a complex interplay of decisions a crop breeder makes. The decision to use these tools ultimately come down to: (1) whether it is the most appropriate tool for the task at hand (not always a biotechnology tool), (2) whether consumers and the market would accept the product resulting from the application of the tool they choose, followed by (3) whether there is a pathway through regulations to the market. No breeder mentioned the legal aspects surrounding the use of CRISPR/Cas9 specifically, but these are important issues that need clarification if these tools are to be employed to their fullest potential. Conceptually, the order of each aspect, from most important to least as considered by most Canadian public crop breeders can be listed as:

  1. Fitness of the technology to the crop and task at hand;
  2. Market acceptance;
  3. Regulatory hurdles; and
  4. Legal issues of GEd applications.

Above all, GEd use comes down to whether they are the right tools (cheapest and fastest) to achieve a crop breeder’s objectives.

How can public policy help?

We recommend the following actions to ensure that GEd can be available to Canadian public crop breeders. 

  • First, the legal issues surrounding CRISPR/Cas9 need to be clarified. Doing so could serve as precedent for other GEd techniques and technologies.
  • Second, more research (and therefore, more funding) is needed to understand the function of genes in relation to traits (functional genomics). This deficit in knowledge is a serious constraint to using GEd in the public crop breeding sector, particularly because many of the crops under development have complex genomes that are understudied.   
  • Lastly, Canadian public crop breeders signal that they would benefit from greater insight into Canadian and foreign buyer’s perceptions and willingness to accept of GEd products. Directed research on preferences in key markets could benefit Canadian public crop breeding programs both specifically and more generally, as this information would help breeders develop new and more accurate research and breeding objectives.

Works Cited

  1. Gleim, S., S. Lubieniechi, and S.J. Smyth, CRISPR-Cas9 Application in Canadian Public and Private Plant Breeding. The CRISPR Journal, 2020. 3(1): p. 44-51.
  2. Canadian biotechnology Action Network (cban). No Regulatory Exemptions. 2021; Available from: https://cban.ca/take-action/no-exemptions/.
  3. National Academies of Sciences, E. and Medicine, Next steps for functional genomics: proceedings of a workshop. 2020: National Academies Press.
  4. Function, A focus on function. Nature Genetics, 2000. 25(3): p. 243-244.
  5. CIPO. Canadian Patents Database. 2021; Available from: https://www.ic.gc.ca/opic-cipo/cpd/eng/search/basic.html.
  6. Lipkus, N. The nascent CRISPR-Cas9 patent landscape in Canada. 2018 [cited 2021; Available from: https://www.osler.com/en/resources/regulations/2018/the-nascent-crispr-cas9-patent-landscape-in-canada.

Dr. Peter W.B. Phillips (PhD)


Dr. Peter W.B. Phillips is the director of the Centre for the Study of Science and Innovation, and a distinguished professor in the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy’s University of Saskatchewan campus.

He earned his Ph.D. at the LSE and practiced for 13 years as a professional economist in industry and government. At the University of Saskatchewan, he was the Van Vliet Research Professor, created and held an NSERC SSHRC Chair in Managing Technological Change in Agriculture, and was director of the virtual College of Biotechnology.

He has had appointments at the LSE, OECD, European University Institute in Florence, University of Edinburgh and University of Western Australia. He was a founding member of the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee and was on the boards of Canadian Agri-food Policy Institute, Pharmalytics and Ag-West Bio Inc. He has also held over 15 peer-reviewed grants worth more then $250 million and is author/editor of 15 books, and over 60 journal articles and 55 book chapters.

Diego Macall


Diego Macall obtained his undergraduate degree in Agricultural Engineering from the Catholic University of El Salvador. He specialized in coffee production and processing, but also volunteered regularly to help implement rural development projects in impoverished villages and towns throughout the entire country. Seeing up close the socio-economic realities that afflicted a great segment of the Salvadoran population, inspired him to pursue graduate studies in agricultural policy. In 2014, Diego was accepted into the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics master’s programme. Upon obtaining his degree, Diego worked briefly as a market analyst in the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service Office in São Paulo, Brazil. Diego returned to USASK in 2017 as Dr. Stuart Smyth’s research assistant, since then, he has co-authored numerous papers and blogs about agricultural biotechnology. Since October 2020, he has been assisting Dr. Peter WB Phillips with certain components of the EVOLVES project.

Dr. Simona Lubieniechi (PhD)


Dr. Simona Lubieniechi is a Professional Research Associate in the Johnson Shoyama School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada. In 2011 she completed her PhD studies in agricultural economics. Her current research interests include behavioural economics, in particular prospect theory and its extension to framing effects and overconfidence. For the past few years Simona has been working on plant breeders’ decision-making processes and innovation adoption.

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Opinion: African farmers can benefit from co-existence of agroecology and biotechnology

Pacifique Nshimiyimana | Cornell Alliance for Science | November 17, 2021

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Credit: GreenBiz
Credit: GreenBiz

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation. It is posted under Fair Use guidelines.Can agroecology coexist with modern agricultural technologies? What is the reason for the fight against genetically modified (GM) cowpea or Golden Rice when the world’s most pressing food systems challenge is nutritional and food insecurity?

As the global community marked this year’s World Food Day on Oct. 16, where do African countries stand in respect to food and nutrition security? Is Europe’s antagonism toward certain food production systems and embrace of various ideologies going to expand to Africa too?

As the numbers of communities experiencing food insecurity rise, why are we still supporting divisions in the food system when we need to unite in the critical mission of stopping hunger and extreme poverty among our African population?Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.SIGN UP

In my country of Rwanda, the level of malnutrition and hunger leading to stunting among children under the age of five is still alarming, and it’s a scenario that is repeated in many African nations and other developing world countries. Due to the food production challenge, in Sub-Saharan Africa alone 34 percent of children under age 5 are stunted, leading to future generations of people who are mentally and physically impaired and more prone to disease.

In an effort to avoid replicating the mistakes of Western countries, where agroecologists often take hostile and antagonistic stances towards modern biotechnology and the green revolution, African countries are urged to separate themselves from such division for the sake of ending extreme hunger and poverty and meeting the United Nation’s 2030 goal of zero hunger.

African policymakers and world food system leaders are also urged to implement measures that will help African farmers benefit from both agroecology and modern biotechnology. The situation of food production in Africa is so fragile that African smallholder farmers and their communities can’t afford any more divisions in their food systems due to the agroecology movement’s antagonism towards modern biotechnology.

The COVID-19 pandemic and various farming-related plant diseases and insect challenges, like the locust swarms in East Africa, threaten the livelihood of millions. Resilient biotechnology crops that offer protection, like Nigeria’s insect-resistant and drought-tolerant TELA maize and insect-resistant GM cowpea, solve problems and economically empower farmers and rural communities. They should not be subjected to the western style of agroecology hatred towards biotechnology.

“The climate crisis demands that we innovate and give farmers in every country diverse tool kits. Agroecology and biotechnology can co-exist and be mutually supportive,” stated Matt Murray, acting assistant secretary for Economic and Business Affairs in the United States Department of State Department, while speaking at the 2021 World Food Prize.https://www.youtube.com/embed/e8h4F467vgs

Achieving coexistence between agroecology and modern biotechnology in African farming communities will be the turning point in promoting food security on the continent. It will also economically rejuvenate Africa’s large and small producers, who will finally enjoy the freedom of choice over what they produce and how they protect and manage their farming investments.

At a time when an increasing number of African countries are making wise decisions about adopting biotech crops that offer their farmers greater resilience in managing the effects of climate change, it is important to highlight their importance to the livelihoods of small producers.

The reduction of pesticide use that has accompanied the adoption of GM cotton in Kenya and GM cowpea in Nigeria, where the recent approval of TELA maize will also cut insecticide use, helps small farmers with limited means lower their production costs. But even importantly, it reduces the harmful impacts of excessive pesticides on both the environment and the lives of peasant farmers who typically apply these products without any personal protection equipment to guard their health.

This is but one area where agroecology and biotechnology have shared goals. We must now focus on other common goals and values to support, rather than divide, Africa’s farmers.

Pacifique Nshimiyimana is a social entrepreneur and founder of “Real Green Gold Ltd.” He has a graduate degree in Biotechnology from the University of Rwanda.

A version of this article was originally posted at the Cornell Alliance for Science and has been reposted here with permission. The Cornell Alliance for Science can be found on Twitter @ScienceAlly 

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Biotech, gene editing will be key to addressing agriculture’s future challenges

Members of the two subcommittees holding the hearing appeared to support the use of biotech, and gene editing in particular, to develop new plants and animals resistant to disease and able to help farming adapt to climate change.Written By: Sara Wyant | 5:30 am, Nov. 6, 2021

The label for bioengineered foods in the U.S. 

The label for bioengineered foods in the U.S. USDA

In the coming decades, U.S. farmers and ranchers will be challenged to produce more output with fewer inputs, feeding a growing global population while dealing with a wide variety of weather and environmental risks.

For some, those challenges seem almost unsurmountable, but others see that many of the tools are already within our reach and just need investment and regulatory clarity.

“Through opening trade, investing in research, and streamlining our regulatory system we can help facilitate the use of biotechnology to address threats like food scarcity and climate change,” Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., chairman of the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture, said during a recent hearing. That subcommittee held the hearing together with the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research.

Members of the two subcommittees holding the hearing appeared to support the use of biotech, and gene editing in particular, to develop new plants and animals resistant to disease and able to help farming adapt to climate change.

Plant breeding is not new; rather it dates back thousands of years to when people first domesticated wild plant varieties, noted Fan-Li Chou, the American Seed Trade Association’s vice president for scientific affairs and policy in her written testimony.https://6966d91f35a2d4dde45660d0a1ef325d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“Over time, plant breeders have accumulated an impressive collection of tools, such as cross breeding, selection, hybridization, induced mutagenesis, biotechnology and molecular markers to unlock the genetic potential of plant crops. Using these breeding tools, the plant breeding community, both the public and private sides, have safely and reliably introduced to the food system hundreds of thousands of new plant varieties over the past century,” she added.

New varieties developed from plant breeding allow farmers to produce more using fewer inputs. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service’s report on Agricultural Productivity in the U.S., since 1948, domestic agriculture productivity nearly tripled.

While some of the gains can be attributed to better management practices, Chou said some experts estimate that improved varieties account for more than a 50% productivity gain

To be commercially released, Chou said new plant varieties, regardless of the breeding tools used, are subjected to strict, multiyear, multi-location evaluation and assessment for quality and performance.

But sometimes, regulatory systems don’t match up well with the rapid pace of innovation.

One of the issues uniting the witnesses and many of the committee members is the current regulatory structure for making intentional genomic changes in animals. Like changes in plant breeding, the livestock industry has been making improvements in animals for decades.

For example, in pigs, the feed conversion ratio — the amount of food needed to build bodyweight (pounds of feed/ pounds of edible protein at slaughter) — has fallen 58% since 1970, resulting in over 1.5 times a pig’s body weight in feed being saved, noted Elena Rice, chief scientific officer at animal biotech firm Genus PLC in her written testimony.

“In the dairy industry, over a 40-year period, 13% fewer cows are producing 76% more milk — another massive improvement in the sustainability of protein production. While improved genetics is not responsible for all of this staggering improvement, genetics has been the major driver. Based on industry studies and our own analysis, we estimate 50-60% of the improvement has been driven by better genetics,” Rice said.

However, many argue that the process for reviewing gene editing improvements for animals is very outdated. The Food and Drug Administration reviews such changes as if they were drugs.

“Gene editing approaches are channeled into a regulatory approval process that is not well matched for how the technology alters the genome, is transmitted to subsequent generations, or the intended purposes,” said Jon Oatley, a professor at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

He said he supported a Memorandum of Understanding between the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services released last year that proposed USDA assume authority over genetically engineered animals used for food while FDA, which falls under HHS’ purview, would continue to regulate non-food uses.

But the MOU came at the tail end of the Trump administration, and USDA is now considering comments on the appropriate regulatory structure.

“There are ways in which we have to work collaboratively with our friends at FDA to make sure our regulatory system is able to respond quickly enough and be able to keep pace with the pace of change,” Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Ag Committee in October.

His comments followed a letter from almost two-thirds of the ag committee to Vilsack and acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock that said the “existing regulatory system is not conducive to the timely adoption” of genetic improvements in animals. “In the past 25 years, only two animals intended for agricultural purposes have been approved for use domestically by FDA.”

The letter was signed by — among others — House Ag Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Georgia, Ranking Member Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pennsylvania, Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, chair of the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research, and Rep. Jim Baird, R-Ind., the top Republican on that subcommittee.

Rice, from Genus PLC, said the focus of regulation should be on the end products, not on the technology used to produce them. In other words, if a product made using biotechnology could be created using conventional breeding, it should not be regulated differently.

The hearing featured questions from committee members on how biotechnology and gene editing can address issues such as food waste, nutritional deficits and animal diseases.

Oatley said research is now underway on how to transfer genes from warthogs, which can carry African Swine Fever but show no symptoms, into domestic pigs, which die quickly from ASF.

Jack Bobo, CEO of food consulting firm Futurity, said the U.S. needs to clarify its regulatory process for animal biotech products in order to not fall behind other countries where such products have been approved.

He and Chou both mentioned Japan, which has streamlined its biotech regulations and approved a new GE tomato that helps lower blood pressure.

Witnesses and members also decried Mexico’s stated intention to not import GE corn, as well as China’s foot-dragging on the approval of new biotech traits.

Chou said the U.S. has to enforce the biotech provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and said China will not be able to achieve its strategic goals without use of technology, including gene editing.

Editor’s note: Agri-Pulse Associate Editor Steve Davies contributed to this column. Wyant is president and founder of Agri-Pulse Communications Inc. For more news, go to www.Agri-Pulse.com.

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US companies announce plans for gene-edited strawberries

by KEITH RIDLER | Associated PressThursday, October 28th 2021

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Gene-edited strawberry plants grow in a J.R. Simplot Company greenhouse in Boise, Idaho, on Oct. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler)

Gene-edited strawberry plants grow in a J.R. Simplot Company greenhouse in Boise, Idaho, on Oct. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler)

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho company that successfully brought genetically modified potatoes to the market announced an agreement Thursday to help a California-based plant breeding company grow strawberries they say will stay fresh longer and have a longer growing season.

J.R. Simplot Company and Plant Sciences Inc., both privately-held companies, said they expect to launch the first commercially available, gene-edited strawberries within a few years.

U.S. growers produced $2.2 billion in strawberries in 2020, mostly in California, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But consumers discarded an estimated 35% of the crop due to spoilage. Simplot and Plant Sciences officials said genetically modified strawberries will help reduce waste, and make them available to consumers much of the year.

The strawberries will contain genes from only strawberries, selecting desirable traits that have been cultivated over decades to combine them through gene editing.

“It’s the same technology we’re working on with potatoes,” said Doug Cole, director of Marketing and Biotech Affairs at Simplot. “We have the opportunity to do that with this technology.”

There is no evidence that genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs, are unsafe to eat, but changing the genetic code of foods presents an ethical issue for some. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Food and Drug Administration signed off on Simplot’s genetically-modified potatoes as safe to eat, with over 1.1 billion pounds (500,000 million kilograms) now sold in some 40 states and 4,000 supermarkets and 9,000 restaurants.

Cole said the company submitted information to the Agriculture Department that determined gene editing replicates a natural process and doesn’t need regulatory approval before the strawberries are brought to the market.

Steve Nelson, president and chief executive officer of Plant Sciences Inc., said the company over the last 35 years has developed five distinct breeding populations of strawberries that do best in various growing areas and climate types.

“They possess complex genomes that contribute to long and complex breeding cycles,” Nelson said. “You’ve got to look at large populations of seedlings on an annual basis to make progress with traditional plant breeding.”

Gene editing could speed that up. Nelson said the goal of the partnership with Simplot is to improve the horticultural performance of strawberries, enhance pest and disease tolerance and resistance.

He said for growers, who can spend $35,000 an acre to plant strawberries and another $35,000 per acre to harvest them, gene-edited strawberries could reduce the risk of a crop failure.

Simplot, a multinational agribusiness company with headquarters in Boise, Idaho, in 2018 acquired gene editing licensing rights in an agreement with Corteva Agriscience and the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, developers of a gene-editing technology called CRISPR-Cas9. Simplot was the first agricultural company to receive such a license.

The technology allows scientists to make precise changes to the genome of living organisms and has wide-ranging applications for improving plant food production and quality. It’s been likened to using a search-and-replace function while editing a written document.

The gene-editing technology is called CRISPR-Cas9, the first part an acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.” The technology speeds up the traditional process of breeding generation after generation of plants to get a certain desirable trait, saving years in developing new varieties that are as safe as traditionally developed varieties, scientists say.

Craig Richael, director of research and development at Simplot, said the strawberry genetic code has been mapped, but it’s not clear what traits are associated with all the various parts of the code. He said the company is working with parts of the code that are known, raising genetically modified strawberries at a Simplot greenhouse.

Plant Sciences Inc., headquartered in Watsonville, California, and its affiliates have proprietary rights for more than 50 strawberry and raspberry varieties. The company supplies plants to growers in more than 50 countries.

Simplot and Plant Sciences will make money by selling the genetically modified strawberry plants to growers, who pay a royalty for the rights to grow and sell the strawberries. Terms of the deal weren’t released.

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Press release

Plans to unlock power of gene editing unveiled

Use of gene editing technologies to be enabled to help better protect the environment.From:Department for Environment, Food & Rural AffairsFood Standards Agency, and The Rt Hon George Eustice MPPublished29 September 2021

Combine harvester at work on the Yorkshire Wolds
Plans to unlock potential benefits of gene editing set out today

New plans to unlock the power of gene editing to help our farmers grow more resistant, more nutritious and more productive crops have been published as part of the government response to the gene editing consultation, announced today (29 September) by Environment Secretary George Eustice.

The response sets out how we plan to pave the way to enable use of gene editing technologies, which can help better protect the environment.

Gene editing is a tool that makes plant breeding more precise and efficient so we can breed crops that are more nutritious, resistant to pests and disease, more productive and more beneficial to the environment, helping farmers and reducing impacts on the environment.

Research could lead to sugar beet varieties resistant to viruses that can cause serious yield losses and costs to farmers unless pesticides are used. Such new varieties would help make our farmers more productive and, importantly, also reduce the need for chemical pesticides, protecting our bees and other pollinating insects.

Gene editing is different from genetic modification, because it does not result in the introduction of DNA from other species and creates new varieties similar to those that could be produced more slowly by natural breeding processes – but currently they are regulated in the same way as genetically modified organisms.

Leaving the EU allows the UK to set our own rules, opening up opportunities to adopt a more scientific and proportionate approach to the regulation of genetic technologies. As a first step, the government will change the rules relating to gene editing to cut red tape and make research and development easier.

The focus will be on plants produced by genetic technologies, where genetic changes could have occurred naturally or could have been a result of traditional breeding methods.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said:

Gene editing has the ability to harness the genetic resources that nature has provided. It is a tool that could help us in order to tackle some of the biggest challenges that we face – around food security, climate change and biodiversity loss.

Outside the EU, we are able to foster innovation to help grow plants that are stronger and more resilient to climate change. We will be working closely with farming and environmental groups to ensure that the right rules are in place.

Defra chief scientific advisor Gideon Henderson said:

Gene editing technologies provide a more precise way of introducing targeted genetic changes – making the same types of changes to plants and animals that occur more slowly naturally or through traditional breeding.

These tools enable us to harness the richness of natural variation to build better crops, speeding up a process humans have done through breeding for hundreds of years.

There are exciting opportunities to improve the environment, and we can also produce new varieties that are healthier to eat, and more resistant to climate change.

Scientists will continue to be required to notify Defra of any research trials. The planned changes will ease burdens for research and development involving plants, using technologies such as gene editing, to align them with plants developed using traditional breeding methods.

The next step will be to review the regulatory definitions of a genetically modified organism, to exclude organisms produced by gene editing and other genetic technologies if they could have been developed by traditional breeding. GMO regulations would continue to apply where gene editing introduces DNA from other species into an organism.

The government will consider the appropriate measures needed to enable gene edited products to be brought to market safely and responsibly. In the longer term, this will be followed by a review of England’s approach to GMO regulation more broadly.

We are committed to the very highest standards of environmental and food safety in the UK. There will be no weakening of our strong food safety standards. Gene edited foods will only be permitted to be marketed if they are judged to not present a risk to health, not mislead consumers, and not have lower nutritional value than their non-genetically modified counterparts.

The government will continue to work with farming and environmental groups to develop the right rules and to ensure robust controls are in place to maintain the highest food safety and environmental protection standards, while supporting the production of healthier food.

Professor Robin May, the Food Standards Agency’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said:

There are significant benefits to changing the way we regulate genetic technologies, to make sure the system is as up to date as possible and properly takes into account new technologies and scientific discoveries.

We support giving consumers choice and recognise the potential benefits that GE plants and animals may bring to the food system.

We are working closely with Defra and a range of other partners to ensure that potential changes to the regulation of genetic technologies will maintain the high food standards that UK consumers currently enjoy.

Samantha Brooke, Chief Executive of the British Society of Plant Breeders, said:

Changing the way new agricultural breeding technologies are regulated, by taking gene editing out of the scope of GMO rules, will encourage research and innovation to develop healthier, more nutritious food, and to make farming systems more sustainable and resilient in the face of climate change.

Gene editing involves making desired changes to a plant or animal which could have occurred naturally or through conventional breeding, but more quickly and with greater precision. Developing an improved crop variety using conventional breeding – for example to improve its nutritional quality or resistance to disease – can take up to 15 years, but gene editing can help reduce that timescale significantly.

Without the contribution of plant breeding over the past 20 years, farmers would have produced 20% less food in this country, which means an extra 1.8 million hectares of land would have been needed to supply our food needs. That expansion would have impacted vulnerable ecosystems, and generated an extra 300 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Current regulations on plant breeding and seeds support safer and more sustainable food production, and this regulatory system can also embrace new crop varieties produced using gene editing techniques, which replicate what plant breeders are already doing, but in a much quicker and more targeted way.

We strongly welcome the Government’s plan to make controls on gene editing more science-based. This sends a clear signal that the UK is set on a more pro-innovation trajectory outside the EU. It will certainly boost prospects for plant breeding companies large and small, as well as scientists in the public sector, to continue improving our food crops for the benefit of society and the environment.

Professor Helen Sang OBE, Head of Division of Functional Genetics and Development, The Roslin Institute and R(D)SVS, said:

Gene editing offers major opportunities to address the combined challenges of rapidly increasing global demand for healthy and nutritious food with the goal of net zero carbon emissions.

I welcome today’s announcement as a first step towards reducing unnecessary and unscientific regulatory barriers to the use of advanced breeding techniques which are precise and targeted, allowing us to make specific genetic changes.

Adopting a more proportionate and enabling approach to regulation will open up increased opportunities for international research collaboration, inward investment and technology-based exports, bringing a major boost for UK science.

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‘Doing nothing is no longer an option’: 15 agriculture experts assess England’s long-awaited decision to ease restrictions on gene-edited crops

Science Media Centre | October 4, 2021

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Credit: Si Barber/Financial Times
Credit: Si Barber/Financial Times

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation. It is posted under Fair Use guidelines.

The government have published a press release on new plans to unlock the potential benefits of gene editing as part of their response to the gene editing consultation.Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.SIGN UP

Prof Nick Talbot, Executive Director of The Sainsbury Laboratory, said:

We welcome the government’s announcement on genome editing. This technology will help plant breeders create new crop varieties to provide healthy and nutritious food in a sustainable way.  In the face of the climate emergency, we need new innovation in agriculture. We have to work together to make agriculture more sustainable and much less dependent on fossil fuels. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

Prof Dale Sanders, Director of the John Innes Centre, said:

I’m pleased that the Government is acting to change the regulation of gene edited plants and I welcome today’s announcement. But while DEFRA’s announcement is a step forward for crop trials, it is disappointing that the decision applies only to research and development.

“We will only see the benefits of these technologies if crops developed this way are able to reach supermarkets and customers.  It is frustrating when scientific breakthroughs cannot lead to genuine improvements to the foods that we eat.

This is an excerpt. Read the original post here.Related article:  Global scientists assess homeopathy-funded Séra

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UK ready to pave the way for gene-edited crops

The UK government is to relax the regulation of gene-edited crops to enable commercial growing in England. The plants are to be tested and assessed in the same way as conventional new varieties.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said that he would be working closely with farming and environmental groups to help grow plants that are stronger and more resilient to climate change. “Gene editing has the ability to harness the genetic resources that nature has provided. It is a tool that could help us tackle some of the biggest challenges that we face.”

As a first step, legislation will be passed later this year to do away with the need for scientists to apply for a license to carry out open-air trials of a gene-edited crop that could have been produced through traditional cross-breeding.

Currently, the approvals process can take up to two months and cost several thousand pounds. The more significant change will take place next year when legislation will be brought forward to enable simple gene-edited crops to be regulated in the same way as any new variety for commercial development. The government is reviewing what measures it would need to bring in to maintain consumer choices, such as labeling and traceability.
In the longer term, ministers will review England’s approach to regulation covering all genetically modified organisms. This includes changes that might allow the commercial development and farming of gene-edited and genetically modified animals. Such animals can be made to be more productive, resistant to some diseases, and even better able to withstand hot weather.

Read the complete article at www.bbc.com.

Publication date: Wed 29 Sep 2021

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The story behind the 100% public GM bean reaching Brazilian plates

Daniel Norero | August 31, 2021

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Common bean. Credit: Portal Voz da Comunidade
Common bean. Credit: Portal Voz da Comunidade

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.In some Brazilian supermarkets, it is already possible to buy a new genetically modified (GM) common bean, which bears the corresponding GM labeling as required by local regulations. Nothing about this event would be news, considering that Brazil is the second global power in the production of GM crops after the United States and has seen its stores full of products with GM labels. However, this new bean isn’t another of many GM corn and soybeans typically created by North American companies, but rather a 100% locally developed crop by scientists from a state-owned company in the Amazonian giant.

The journey for this new biotech bean to reach Brazilian markets was long and not free of obstacles. It began in the search for a solution to the troublesome Bean Golden Mosaic Virus (BGMV) that can wipe out more than half of a farmer’s bean plants. This pathogen is transmitted by the whitefly, and causes losses estimated at 300,000 tons per year, enough to feed 15 million people.

“BGMV is a serious problem in tomatoes, soybeans and other plants, but in beans it’s also transmitted by whiteflies in a persistent way. When the insect already acquires the virus, it begins to transmit it throughout its life,” says Francisco Aragão, senior researcher at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) and co-creator of the new Brazilian GM bean. “That is why it is difficult to develop a resistance strategy and it’s also known that if you have only one whitefly per plant, you can already have 100% infection.”

Dr. Francisco Aragao (right) and Dr. Josias Faria (left), “fathers” of the Brazilian GM bean. Photo taken in January 2020 in a GM bean field in the city of Río Verde, Goias state. Credit: Francisco Aragao.

Before the new GM bean, the only BGMV control methods were cultural management, biological control, and the use of pesticides to control the virus host -the whitefly- with little results. “The average application [of pesticides] in a season is 10 times, but there are producers who apply 20 times or more. Even with those apps it is still possible to lose everything on some occasions. And if there is soy nearby, it will be very difficult to control the whitefly population in your beans,” says Aragao.

“The prices of insecticides are very expensive and for small farmers it’s difficult to have to use it so many times. In Brazil we have a very large area -about 1.2 million acres- where it’s not recommended to plant beans due to the great loss probability”.Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.SIGN UP

Not just for COVID: RNA also protects crops

Since the 1960s, EMBRAPA researchers have searched for bean cultivars with natural resistance to BGMV throughout the Americas, but results were unsatisfactory. Once only cultivars with only partial resistance and not adapted to Brazilian conditions were identified, EMBRAPA decided to invest in modern biotechnology and GMOs.

“This started in the 90’s when we began to try, on the one hand, to transform beans, which is still one of the most difficult plants to be genetically transformed, and on the other, to study the virus and develop strategies to obtain resistant plants,” Aragao relates. Together with his colleague, Josias Faria, they tried some biotechnological strategies such as antisense RNA -expression of the complementary RNA strand of a gene- and lethal transdominance -expression of a mutated protein that is essential for virus replication-, unfortunately without results or only partial resistance.

“With RNA interference technology, we started in the early 2000s,” Aragao says about RNAi, a natural defense mechanism in plants that “silences genes” but that wasn’t yet fully understood then. Despite this, in the 90’s there had already been success with the Hawaiian papaya, where genetic modification through interfering RNA would save the island’s farmers from the papaya ringspot virus.

How does it work? You’ve probably read or seen a lot in the headlines of the last year about RNA vaccines for COVID-19. In this case, the modifying mechanism with interfering RNA isn’t very different, and it literally works as a “vaccine” for crops. Scientists inserted a DNA fragment of the virus into the nuclear genome of the plant, with the aim of making it produce small double-stranded RNA molecules -known as small interfering RNA or siRNA- that silence the viral rep gene, a key gene for the virus’s replication cycle. As a consequence, the virus is unable to express this gene, its viral replication is interrupted and plants become resistant to the virus. In simple terms, you get a plant “vaccinated” against BGMV.

So in the future, not only will we protect ourselves from pandemics with RNA vaccines, our food can also be protected from deadly viruses with this technology.

It should be noted that this “gene silencing” method is a plant natural mechanism. A normal bean plant that is infected will generate siRNAs later, but not in conditions or levels to deal with the pathogen. With genetic engineering, scientists anticipate and adapt this natural system so that it is triggered the moment the virus enters the plant and it defends itself effectively.

“Something we observe is that flies acquire the virus from plants, but the virus doesn’t replicate in the fly, but in plants… and so the flies acquire more and more viruses,” adds Aragao. “We also observe that when viruliferous flies are put on modified plants, the viral load decreases in the fly, since it releases the virus and has no place to absorb more.”

“It’s interesting and we observe that the same happens for neighboring -not modified- plants”, Aragao indicates, about a potential protector effect that modified beans would have on neighboring conventional crops. “We hope that farmers who produce conventional beans alongside GM bean farmers will also benefit.”

Comparison between an elite line of GM bean resistant to BGMV (right) with healthy leaves and pods, and its conventional counterpart (left) with marked roughness and chlorosis, as well as deformed pods caused by BGMV. Credit: Souza, 2018

From the laboratory to the field

In 2004 the Aragao and Farias team developed the first bean plant immune to BGMV with the siRNA strategy. From 24 modified lines in total, two were immune, and line “5.1” was finally selected–so named since it derives from experiment number 5. “Then we began to do the greenhouse trials, after field trials, the biosafety analyzes and we generated all the data needed to answer all the questions from the National Technical Commission for Biosafety (CTNBio)”, says Aragao.

Aragao and Faria’s team demonstrated that this new GM bean was safe for human consumption, nutritionally equivalent, and had no effects on the environment different than conventional beans. For example, off-target or epigenetic effects were ruled out, and it’s important to note that the inserted transgene doesn’t generate any new proteins, but only small RNAs, which are very unstable molecules and are degraded during food processing.

The collected information was presented to the CTNBio regulators in 2010, approving its commercial release in 2011, a historic milestone as it was developed entirely by a public entity and was the first GM bean in the world. However, why has it taken about a decade to hit the market since that approval?

“We still didn’t have commercial cultivars, and it hasn’t been possible to develop them before because -here in Brazil- all field trials require authorization and also, each field must be in a certified area,” says Aragao about the Brazilian regulatory system. “And for the data generation rules of a new variety, it must be considered that Brazil has five areas for the bean, and we must carry out trials in at least three zones, of each one of the areas, for two years.”

Due to the cumbersomeness of the certification system, EMBRAPA preferred to wait for the commercial release of line 5.1 and only then to breed it with local varieties and endow them with virus resistance. “After commercial approval, you can sow wherever you want and it’s very difficult to have approval for all areas and zones before commercial approval,” adds Aragao.Related article:  15 years after debuting GMO crops, Colombia’s switch has benefited farmers and environment

After more than 31 field trials analyzing agronomic performance, the first GM cultivars of a Pinto -or Carioca- variety suitable for commercial use had already been obtained in 2015. The average yield of the modified cultivar was almost 20% higher than conventional varieties, and in areas with a high incidence of the virus, the profitability of GM beans was 78% higher.

GM bean field in the city of Río Verde, Goias state, in January 2020. Credit: Francisco Aragao

A fascinating piece of information that should be highlighted is the absolute immunity the modified plants have demonstrated since event 5.1 was obtained. “The losses from BGMV are zero. Every year, since we started experimental planting and until the commercial one, we never observe a single plant with the virus, the plants are totally immune,” says Aragao. A strong contrast with the high level of losses in conventional beans that ranges from 40% to 100% of the plants, and the remaining grain is usually deformed or not suitable for sale.

“With this bean, the idea is to have a reduction in pesticide applications. Instead of doing 10 or even 25 applications, the idea is to only do 3 applications (for other pests). What we did was create something more sustainable and safer for consumers”.

Consumer perception and exports

The rules and regulations were not the only problem to be overcome. Since 2015 it had been time to evaluate the best strategy to bring the new GM Pinto bean, a variety that is planted on more than three million hectares and represents 70% of the beans consumed in the country, to Brazilian tables.

“We started to see how to launch it, because beans are not like soybeans, corn or cotton for us. First, it’s a plant that is there on our plate and is consumed every day. Second, it is much more than a staple food, it has a cultural value,” emphasizes Aragao. Since 2015 they had discussed how to conduct the commercial launch, which did not take place until  the second half of 2020, after the seeds multiplication for the first sale.

What has been the attitude of farmers and consumers? In the case of farmers, apparently a success. “The sale of seed has been 100%. The seed producers didn’t sell more because they didn’t have any more,” says Aragao with a laugh. Regarding consumers, it’s still too early to evaluate it, but considering that supermarkets have been selling many products with GMO labeling for years -because GM corn or soybeans derivatives- Aragao hopes that there will be no rejections with the new bean. “If you go to the street and do a survey asking people if they would eat GMOs, probably 40-60% will say no, but in the supermarket they buy it without any problem,” he emphasizes.

Pinto bean package with the new GM variety. It bears the GM label in a yellow triangle with a letter T inside, and below the text: “Product elaborated from GM beans”. Credit: ChileBio

The fact that the Pinto bean produced in Brazil is destined for exclusive local consumption -unlike other varieties- facilitated its commercial release. “We also have modified black beans [from event 5.1], but for now we decided not to launch to the market, since Brazil exports black beans. For example, we have feijoada that is exported canned, and we don’t want to have problems in other countries,” says Aragao.

Genetic editing and new developments

Aragao and his team continue to work on improvements for this Brazilian bean and are already integrating new gene editing technologies to give it greater drought tolerance, decrease phytates (anti-nutritional components), and bestow resistance to other important bean viruses, such as carlavirus.

He also mentions an interesting work carried out with a GMO approach in collaboration with the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey from México in 2016, managing to increase the level of folate (vitamins B9) 150 times, an essential nutrient in fetal development and whose deficiency in pregnant women generates babies with severe congenital problems.

Dr. Francisco Aragao with other GM crops developed under his leadership: A folate-biofortified lettuce (left) and a ricin-free castor bean (right). Credit: ISTOÉ/Embrapa

Other side projects that Aragao and his team are working on include GM lettuce and castor beans. “In lettuce we are working towards virus resistance and an increase in the folate level. We are running field trials and it’s practically ready, but we don’t have all the biosafety data yet. We want to achieve resistance to two very important viruses in lettuce -all over the world – and stack it together with the increase in folate in the same line.”

In castor bean, they seek to eliminate ricin, a highly toxic compound from seeds that makes its use in animal feed unfeasible. “Castor oil plant is a very interesting plant for semi-arid areas, it has a tremendous tolerance to drought and saline soils. The idea is to use a plant like this to obtain not only oil, but also a source of protein for animals,” says Aragao. “The cake that remains after oil extraction is used as fertilizer, but using it as protein for animals would be a much more noble and sustainable purpose.”

Local efforts and science denialism

Until now there has been no opposition from activists and NGOs against the commercial release of the new GM bean. “The anti-GMO groups here in Brazil are fighting against Argentine HB4 wheat, so at least they have forgotten about the bean,” says Aragao. The HB4 wheat he mentions is the first in the world to be approved for commercial release in the neighboring country, but it was conditional on import approval by Brazil, the largest buyer of Argentine wheat.

“Some of the anti-GMO (activists) now claim to be in favor of science for the COVID vaccine. Here we see an example of science denialism. They are deniers depending on the technology, and they don’t consider that some of the modern vaccines are GMOs. To claim that GMOs aren’t safe is simply science denialism. All the scientific data shows that they are safe,” remarks Aragao.

Another important point is that EMBRAPA’s GM bean dismantles the classic narrative against GMOs on the grounds of alleged monopolies or that it’s an exclusive technology of large companies and rich countries. “GM beans are important to show that this technology is not only for big farmers, since we have many small bean farmers in Brazil. Why only for soy, corn and cotton? Why only for large farmers?” asks Aragao.

“It is a technology that can be used for small farmers and to address local problems and crops. Large companies aren’t going to invest in sweet potatoes, cassava, beans or peanuts. They prefer to invest in crops of large areas that are grown in different countries. That is why developing countries have to make an investment in their own problems, and why not, with technologies like this one,” he concludes.

In Brazil, there is hope that this biotechnological solution, fruit of ingenuity and effort of the public sector of Brazil, will be an example to be followed by other Latin American, African and Asian countries. This GM bean approval is a preferrable alternative to walking the European path that has been hindering this technology for more than two decades. Following the Brazilian path shows how to develop local solutions to local problems.

Daniel Norero is a science communications consultant and fellow at the Cornell Alliance for Science. He studied biochemistry at the Catholic University of Chile. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNorero

The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.

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CRISPR sows seeds of change in agricultural biotechnology

Since its introduction in 2012, CRISPR-based genetic engineering technology has transformed biotechnology and opened new possibilities in biomedicine. Currently, CRISPR is driving development in yet another domain—agriculture. Although CRISPR has been slower to realize agricultural applications than biotechnology and biomedical applications, it is ready to help us cope with an array of agricultural challenges that include an expanding population, a rapidly warming climate, and a shrinking supply of arable land.

Nearly a decade after Charpentier and Doudna’s landmark study demonstrating that CRISPR systems could be programmed for targeted DNA cleavage in vitro (Jinek et al. Science 2012; 337(6096), 816–821), scientists have started to make good use of CRISPR systems in agricultural biotechnology (agbiotech). In fact, the first genome-edited agricultural product has already hit the market in Japan. This product is a tomato called the Sicilian Rouge High GABA. It was engineered by Sanatech Seed, and it is meant to help consumers reduce their blood pressure. If this product does well, it may encourage other agbiotech companies to ramp up their own CRISPR genome editing programs.

CRISPR has both practical and regulatory advantages over traditional plant breeding and genetic modification methods. Consequently, CRISPR is looking increasingly attractive to agbiotech companies that hope to engineer products that can improve human health and the environment.

“It’s all about genetic variability,” affirms Sam Eathington, PhD, the chief technology officer at Corteva Agriscience, one of the Big Four seed companies. “In some crops, we don’t have as much variability as we’d like. There are times that variability is locked up in parts of the genome that you just can’t unlock easily. Or you bring in a gene for improved disease resistance from a wild species that can intermate, but you bring along a whole bunch of stuff that’s detrimental.” CRISPR can overcome those obstacles, accessing that variability while removing unwanted baggage.

Read the complete article at www.genengnews.com.

Publication date: Thu 12 Aug 2021

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Engineering broad-spectrum disease-resistant rice by editing multiple susceptibility genes

Journal of Integrative Plant Biology

Hui TaoXuetao ShiFeng HeDan WangNing XiaoHong FangRuyi WangFan ZhangMin WangAihong LiXionglun LiuGuo-Liang WangYuese NingFirst published: 25 June 2021 https://doi.org/10.1111/jipb.13145

Edited by:: Xuewei Chen, Sichuan Agricultural University, ChinaRead the full textPDFTOOLSSHARE


Rice blast and bacterial blight are important diseases of rice (Oryza sativa) caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae and the bacterium Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae (Xoo), respectively. Breeding rice varieties for broad-spectrum resistance is considered the most effective and sustainable approach to controlling both diseases. Although dominant resistance genes have been extensively used in rice breeding and production, generating disease-resistant varieties by altering susceptibility (S) genes that facilitate pathogen compatibility remains unexplored. Here, using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, we generated loss-of-function mutants of the S genes Pi21 and Bsr-d1 and showed that they had increased resistance to M. oryzae. We also generated a knockout mutant of the S gene Xa5 that showed increased resistance to Xoo. Remarkably, a triple mutant of all three S genes had significantly enhanced resistance to both M. oryzae and Xoo. Moreover, the triple mutant was comparable to the wild type in regard to key agronomic traits, including plant height, effective panicle number per plant, grain number per panicle, seed setting rate, and thousand-grain weight. These results demonstrate that the simultaneous editing of multiple S genes is a powerful strategy for generating new rice varieties with broad-spectrum resistance.

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Preview(opens in a new tab)Add titleGene editing poised to spark innovation in herbicide- and disease-resistant sugar cane

Gene editing poised to spark innovation in herbicide- and disease-resistant sugar cane

Julie Wurth | CABBI | July 22, 2021

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Credit: Fawakih
Credit: Fawakih

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

Sugarcane is one of the most productive plants on Earth, providing 80 percent of the sugar and 30 percent of the bioethanol produced worldwide. Its size and efficient use of water and light give it tremendous potential for the production of renewable value-added bioproducts and biofuels.

But the highly complex sugarcane genome poses challenges for conventional breeding, requiring more than a decade of trials for the development of an improved cultivar.

Two recently published innovations by University of Florida researchers at the Department of Energy’s Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI) demonstrated the first successful precision breeding of sugarcane by using CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing — a far more targeted and efficient way to develop new varieties.

CRISPR/Cas9 allows scientists to introduce precision changes in almost any gene and, depending on the selected approach, to turn the gene off or replace it with a superior version. The latter is technically more challenging and has rarely been reported for crops so far.Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.SIGN UP

“Now we have very effective tools to modify sugarcane into a crop with higher productivity or improved sustainability,” [researcher Fredy] Altpeter said. “It’s important since sugarcane is the ideal crop to fuel the emerging bioeconomy.”

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