Change can sometimes be quite scary. Changing our jobs, changing our hair style or even changing our beliefs can leave us feeling hesitant. We don’t always know what the outcome of trying something new will become. It is no different when we think of trying new ways to produce products. Consequently, people are left with many questions and fear when it comes to the new ways that food is produced. One way that agriculture is utilizing new technology is gene editing crops. This new technology has the potential to be beneficial but can leave people concerned. Similar to when we make other changes, understanding the changes in agriculture and gene editing can help to make this change less dreadful.

Gene editing is a way of altering the DNA of a plant. We can understand the way that gene editing works by seeing this technology as an art project. You start with stickers, scissors, glue and a blank piece of paper. Your blank piece of paper is the original DNA of the plant. With scissors you can cut your paper and you can glue the pieces into different places. You can add stickers onto your paper or in between pieces of paper.  We can compare this to gene editing. You can use enzymes, that are like scissors, to cut the DNA of the plant. You can use other enzymes, such as ligase, to “glue” pieces of DNA together. Other gene editing technologies can insert foreign pieces of DNA, the stickers, into the plant genome. These alterations or changes to the original DNA of the plant creates “art” or a plant that has beneficial traits.

A common example of gene editing is the rainbow papaya. In 1992, a disease, papaya ringspot virus, wreaked havoc on the production of papaya in the Hawaiian Islands. The disease decreased the amount of papaya that was produced by half. At that time, there were no known ways to stop the increase and infection of papaya ringspot virus on the islands. One solution that was introduced was genetically modified papayas. In order to prevent the infection of the virus they “vaccinated” the papayas. A coat protein gene of a mild form was used as a vaccine for the virus. They injected the mild gene into the embryo, or baby papaya plants. Once the vaccine is injected, it prevents the more destructive virus gene from infecting and killing the plant. This form of gene editing that was used for papaya was so successful that it is still used to protect the papaya that is being produced on the Hawaiian Islands.

Gene editing, like most things, can be frightening because we don’t always know how they work. Gene editing in plants is very similar to several daily activities that we know and understand that we can think of it as to better understand the process. Gene editing uses tools like scissors, glue, and stickers to create a plant with new traits. Some processes of gene editing can be similar to using vaccinations to protect our valuable fruit crops. Overall, gene editing when understood can be a useful way to improve our agriculture.