The ROI on DNA: Gene Editing a Game Changer for Farmers

Published: 28 November 2023

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently approved gene editing for use in breeding new crop varieties, meaning plant breeders can now apply the technology to their work. Gene editing has the potential to quickly develop new varieties with greater accuracy in targeting traits such as drought and disease resistance, with promising agronomic and trade implications for farmers.

“Gene editing is one of the best things to happen to crop breeding in a very long time,” Dr. Jaswinder Singh, associate professor at the McGill University Department of Plant Science, told Grainswest.

Unlike GMOs, gene editing does not involve the introduction of new genetic material, which has made it less controversial with consumers than GMO technology. CRISPR is the main gene editing tool now in use. It allows scientists to locate and alter specific DNA segments within plant cells or turn them on or off.

“Gene editing is more a fine tuning of genes already present in the plant,” said Singh. “By making small changes in the nucleotide [the building block of DNA and RNA], we can have a major impact on disease resistance and the ability to deal with abiotic stresses such as temperature, water and UV radiation.”

The process can be used in the creation of new crop lines and to tweak existing varieties that lack a certain trait of interest to farmers. “The CFIA announcement means that people like me—scientists and academics—are able to make these changes in the lab for the benefit of end-users,” said Singh.

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