Across Regions

Countering the impact of climate change through new breeding techniques

It is imperative that we breed new varieties of plants to make agriculture more sustainable, given increasing food demand and a warming climate. Until recently, mutations and classical breeding techniques were sufficient to breed new varieties. At the end of the 20th century, tissue culture, gene transfer and other molecular biologic developments entered the picture.

In the past decade, a variation on mutation has emerged. We now see thousands of new plant varieties that were bread using artificial mutation with X or gamma rays or colchicine application. A mutation is a spontaneous or purposeful change in one of the genes of a living organism.

Since 2010, new plant varieties have been developed in molecular laboratories using new plant breeding techniques (NPBTs), including tilling, protoplast fusion, cisgenesis, oligonucleotide techniques, CRISPR-Cas9 and Talen, with CRISPR-Cas9 being more prominent than the rest.

With these methods, there is no transfer of a gene from a foreign species like there is with GMOs. On the contrary, new varieties are created by silencing the target gene with the help of transient DNA-cutting enzymes. These applications can increase or decrease the effect of a gene. We can call this process artificial micro-mutation. Naturally, these methods can be applied to plants with mapped genes.

What’s most interesting is that these methods do not require hundreds of millions of dollars for registration, as is the case with GMOs.

Therefore, gene-edited seeds can reach the marked faster than other varieties. Additionally, the cost of these techniques is only one tenth of GMO processes, resulting in easy variety development by small and medium-sized plant breeding companies, universities and public institutions.

This article was published on the website of the Genetic Literacy Project – the full article can be found on this page