- Can we manage agricultural pests with chemical conversations?
- Typos and Scotch Tape
- Designing Crops for a Changing Climate
- What does gene editing look like today?
- Coral Conservation: The Tides are Changing
- The Era of Editing
- Crop Biotechnology: Fear, not Foe
- Typos and Scotch Tape
- Gene Editing: Not as Scary as it Sounds
- A cutting-edge approach to an ancient problem: gene editing takes a bite out of malaria
- Genome Editing - The Future of Our Food?
- Break and repair - What do they really mean by gene "editing"?
- Take the Guessing out of Gene Editing
- Preventing Malaria with Genetic Engineering
Designing Crops for a Changing Climate
Our changing climate poses risks not only to our habitats, but to our food security as well. Research that incorporated data from climate change models and growth experiments concluded that at 6% reduction in annual global wheat yield, equivalent to 42 metric tons, would accompany each 1O C rise in global average temperature. A similar study projected annual global reductions of 3.2% for rice, 7.4% for maize, and 3.1% for soybean. Various cultivation strategies, including water management, soil optimization, and selective breeding must be employed in order to hedge these losses. Humankind has selectively bred crops for approximately 10,000 years, dating back to Mesopotamian agriculture in the Fertile Crescent. Practically, selective breeding describes the practice of breeding plant lines, or cultivars, of crops that exhibit desirable traits, such as high tolerance to drought. At the molecular level, however, this process effectively selects and maintains favorable regions of DNA; therein resides the genetic code from which those traits arise. This technique facilitates the generation of reproducibly robust crops, but it is often a time-intensive and impliable endeavor. A powerful, emergent alternative is the targeted genetic engineering of crops, which can be utilized to generate cultivars that are better equipped to withstand the environmental extremes associated with climate change. The CRISPR technology utilizes enzymes that can be “programmed” to identify specific sequences of DNA, enabling the precise editing of targeted regions of the genome. Consequently, the genome can be altered to silence or enhance targeted DNA, or even add new sequences of DNA, in considerably less time than that required by selective breeding. CRISPR has been experimentally deployed in commercially important crop plants, and holds great promise as a tool for designing solutions to the environmental challenges posed to crop plants, at the genetic level. CRISPR-directed engineering of maize plants produced a cultivar with enhanced drought tolerance. In that study, researchers identified a specific gene associated with plant hormone responses and grain production, and designed maize with higher levels of expression of that gene, producing a cultivar that, when exposed to drought stress, generated higher grain yield than seen in normal plants. Similarly, recent work in rice plants utilized CRISPR to deactivate a different group of hormone response genes, producing rice plants with 25-31% enhanced grain yield. A warmer planet is predicted to exacerbate epidemics of plant pathogens, and recent work undertaken in tomato incorporated CRISPR-directed deactivation of genes associated with pathogen defense, producing a tomato variety with enhanced resitance to the fungal pathogen responsible for powdery mildew disease. These and similar studies exemplify the value of CRISPR, and of gene editing overall, to the improvement of crop plants. By harnessing the genetic code underpinning how plants respond to stress, we can design crops with impoved adaptations to adverse environmental conditions, bolstering our food supply amidst a volatile climate.