The latest exploit in food improvement is CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats/Cas9) gene-editing technology. It potentially has many major implications for developed global agriculture and much-needed improvements in food security. CRISPR and gene editing tools simultaneously represent an extensive legal and regulatory challenge and in addition, a huge scientific opportunity for the global food industry. With the advancement of genome editing technologies, the possibility of directly targeting and subsequently modifying genomic sequences in plants is fascinating. Genome editing can extend our ability to develop an impressive potential in applied biotechnology and its effects on increased world food production.
CRISPR gene editing is a genetic engineering technique in molecular biology by which the genomes of living organisms may be modified. It is based on a simplified version of the bacterial CRISPR-Cas9 antiviral defense system. By delivering the Cas9 nuclease entangled with a synthetic guide RNA (gRNA) into a cell, the cell's genome can be cut at the desired location, enabling existing genes to be removed and/or new ones added in vivo (in living organisms). Furthermore, the first successful application of CRISPR came in 2013, and it's been turning buzz and investment ever since. It is currently the easiest, most accessible, and precise method of genetic manipulation.
- The Potential of Gene Editing
In medicine, gene editing could potentially cure hereditary diseases, such as some forms of heart disease and cancer and a rare disorder that causes vision loss. In agriculture, the technique can create plants that not only produce higher yields, like Lippman's tomatoes but also ones that are more nutritious and more impermeable to drought and pests, traits that may help crops go through more extreme weather patterns predicted in the coming years.
Today hundreds of research and development labs are at work testing the potential of Crispr the technique's acronym to resolve a range of food-related concerns for both consumers and growers: declined-gluten wheat that could be suffered by those with sensitivities, a mushroom that doesn't brown when injured or cut, soybeans lower in unhealthy fats, and even protecting the global chocolate supply candymaker Mars is behind an effort to bolster cacao's ability to fight off a virus that's devastating the crop in West Africa.
Agricultural scientists have been enhancing plants through biotechnology for 25 years by shifting genes from one plant (or bacteria) species into another. These GMOs have enabled farmers to spray more herbicides without damaging their crops or to create disease-resistant papayas in Hawaii, for example. Although science has not shown any human health effects of eating GMOs, they have been the target of consumer boycotts and tough government regulations throughout Europe and some U.S. states, stimulated by a suspect of the big corporations that create GMOs and the ramifications of mixing genes from two species. But latest gene-editing tools such as Crispr (and there are others) achieve the same effects without transferring new genes from one organism to another. Gene editing is also simpler, cheaper, and faster than creating GMOs. Because gene editing is relatively easy for those with proper training and basic lab facilities and not tightly controlled by a few companies, some experts say that it might allow emerging nations to grow drought-free corn or nutrient-fortified vegetables without buying costly seeds from large multinational firms. It's also faster than growers methodically crossing generations of plant species to eventually get the desired trait Crispr shaves years from that process.
- Genome Editing Has Been Recognized by The Improvements of CRISPR Technology
The revelation of CRISPR in the prokaryote immune system. The CRISPR system is an enlightened adaptive immune mechanism present in bacteria and Archaea for protection against capturing bacteriophages and exogenous plasmids. It was first determined in the genome of Escherichia coli in 1987 and officially named by the Dutch scientist who identified CRISPR-associated (Cas) genes.
In 2005, three different research groups simultaneously found that the short sequences of many CRISPR spacers were majorly homologous with sequences originating from extrachromosomal DNA, indicating a relationship between CRISPR and specific immunity. Nearly a decade later, CRISPR-Cas was successfully developed into an efficient tool to edit human, animal, and plant genomes, extensively boosting its application in fields as diverse as pharmacology, animal domestication, and food science.
- CRISPR at Work: Boosting Everyday Foods
In crops, such as some examples below, CRISPR can impact yield, disease resistance, taste, and other traits.
Scientists are working to enhance the cacao plant's immune system to resist a virus devastating West Africa's crops.
Gene editing is being tested to produce a more adaptable variety that can fight a deadly fungus attacking the global commercial supply.
CRISPR may be a protection against powdery mildew that interferes with the sugar levels required for wine-quality grapes.
To escape the costly process of removing caffeine, which can also affect flavor, a bean variety has been edited to be naturally decaffeinated.
Researchers developed a variety that produces 25 to 30 percent more yield without compromising its tolerance to tough climate conditions.
Geneticists identified 13 critical flavor notes in heirlooms. They may be added to developed varieties to increase flavor.
Scientists recognized a gene in a native variety that produces more grain under drought conditions; it'll be added to modern varieties.
Pennsylvania State University traced undesirable brown spots to a melanin gene; with a tweak, appearance and shelf life boosted.
Scientists in Spain and the U.S. are modifying wheat to produce strains considerably lower in the gluten proteins that cause celiac disease.
- Gene Editing in Food Production: Future Trends and Risks
The benefits of gene editing are potentially substantial. It provides an opportunity to edit crops so we can feed the world with less land and with a lower environmental impact, even as the effects of climate change threaten food production. It could also have health benefits for consumers and provide multiple economic opportunities.
Increased yields with less land and fewer inputs. For instance, tomatoes could be bred to have double the number of branches, and therefore twice the number of tomatoes. We can also overcome waste by producing potatoes that can better withstand bruising. As a result, we may need to use fewer resources such as land, water, and fertilizers to produce the same or increased yield.
Augmented resistance to adverse weather conditions. Climate change is and is anticipated to continue to result in more extreme weather patterns such as floods and droughts. Crops could be edited so they are more resistant to utmost weather patterns and can therefore be a pivotal part of adapting to climate change.
The increased disease was unsusceptible for both crops and animals. Crops could be grown to be more resistant to disease. Crops can also be grown to be more resistant to pests, meaning we can overcome pesticide use and reduce waste. Animals can also be bred so they can better withstand disease, which means we could overcome the use of antibiotics.
Intercepting allergens and producing more healthy produce. Crops could be grown to have decreased gluten, or soybeans could be grown to be lower in unhealthy fats. Japan has sanctioned a gene-edited "super tomato", which has benefits for heart health.
Enhanced Animal Welfare
Gene editing also enables breeders to launch the latest traits to animals. Animals could be bred to better withstand disease, and we could even breed hornless cattle so they cannot hurt other animals they are kept alongside.
Decreased costs for farmers and cheaper food for consumers. As gene editing can make farming more efficient by augmenting yields and guarding crops against environmental pressures and disease, it could decline production costs, which could have a knock-on effect on the cost of food for consumers.
A transformed political economy. Many of the first-generation commercial GM crops were designed by large agribusinesses as these companies had the funds to invest in labs and greenhouses and were able to obtain patents. Hence, they were able to dominate the market. Gene editing may open opportunities for emerging economies to grow crops without buying expensive seeds from large multinational firms. This is because it is relatively easy for those without proper training and high-tech lab facilities to use this technology. It may also allow start-ups to compete with multinational agribusinesses.
- Disadvantages And Perceived Risks?
Like almost all technologies, gene editing could be utilized in good or bad ways. Even though most scientists now agree on the opportunities introduced by gene editing, some political and ethical challenges remain.
Gene editing can be described as a more accurate and controllable form of genetic engineering, as tools like CRISPR can be programmed to target a specific site in the genome. Nevertheless, research has found that CRISPR can create unintended effects at the target site and in other places along the genome. Yet scientists say that these issues can be controlled through carefully programming the transformed organisms to ensure the alterations are as desired. The risks can be managed much more carefully than in traditional or selective animal breeding, which has been prepared for hundreds of years and is subject to little regulation.
Some actors like Beyond GM dispute that gene editing could result in some undesirable knock-on effects if not properly regulated. For instance, if animals are made immune to certain diseases, it might motivate farmers to keep more animals in smaller spaces, which would have a poor impact on animal welfare. Nevertheless, many scientists acknowledge that gene editing is much more probably to have positive impacts on animal welfare, for example by prohibiting diseases such as swine flu.
The same technologies used to produce gene-edited foods could be utilized for other potentially damaging uses. Even though gene editing can be used positively in health care, for example, to produce new cancer and blood disease treatments it raises difficult ethical questions such as whether there will be a restriction to the conditions that gene editing is used to treat and fears over creating designer babies. There are also ethical questions about the way the scientific research supporting the application of CRISPR in these areas is carried out, and the role of the scientist carrying out the gene editing, and their liability in the case of an accident.
These challenges and risks are not unconquerable if regulated properly. Traditional animal breeding also presents risks, yet is not subject to the same regulation as gene editing. Governments should target a flexible, outcome-based regulatory approach to protect against undesirable effects such as keeping animals in poor conditions while allowing promising gene-editing applications to advance when they are demonstrably safe.
- Recent Developments in the CRISPR Technology
Recent developments in the Crispr technology that can be directly executed in disease-resistant crop production, for instance, generating gene-edited dicotyledonous plants through de novo meristem induction and removing time-consuming tissue culture steps, using temperature-tolerant CRISPR/LbCas12a to increase the targeting and efficiency, allowing large DNA insertions (up to 2 kb) with precision in rice, and applying heat-inducible CRISPR system to grow the efficiency of gene targeting in maize. Chromosome engineering in crops is another stimulating recent development allowing controlled restructuring of plant genomes and breaking genetic linkage via somatic chromosome engineering. Taken together, these developments would further streamline the transfer of resistance genes to elite cultivars.
UK Sanctioned Europe's First Field Trials of Crispr-Edited Wheat- The UK government has approved Europe's first field trials of Crispr-edited wheat. The experiments will be supervised in Hertfordshire by the agricultural science institute Rothamsted Research. The Rothamsted project is aiming to create wheat with lower levels of amino acid asparagine. When the bread is baked or toasted, asparagine is transformed into acrylamide a carcinogenic contaminant that requires close monitoring under EU law. Laboratory and greenhouse studies have already shown Crispr can be used to create wheat plants that produce much lower levels of asparagine. Rothamsted Research says that the new five-year project will examine 'how the plants fare in the field and whether asparagine concentrations continue to be low in grain produced under field conditions. The edited plants will be grown alongside wheat in which asparagine synthesis has been altered using older chemical-induced mutation methods to allow for direct comparison.
In the UK, gene-edited crops in which minor alterations are made utilizing precise techniques like Crispr have treated the same way under law as transgenic organisms whose genomes include DNA introduced from other species. The current regulations essentially ban bringing any of these products to market. Nevertheless, the government is currently carrying out a consultation on the issue that may lead to new legislation allowing farmers to plant gene-edited crops.
- Concluding Remarks
With further advances in CRISPR technology and the establishment of an evaluation system, more economies might be willing to promote an optimistic and inclusive attitude toward CRISPR-edited crops. As researchers, in addition to further scrutinizing CRISPR technology to ensure maximum benefit while decreasing risks, we need to be concerned with public acceptance. Most importantly, the basic features of this technology need to be explained sufficiently well to enable rational public discourse, growing public confidence in the safety and advantages of CRISPR-edited crops. Governments might then express a laissez faire attitude after attaining strong public trust.
- Key Companies Associated with the CRISPR Technology
Toolgen Inc, MilliporeSigma, Cellectis, DowDuPont, MPEG-LA, Caribou Biosciences, Intellia Therapeutics, CRISPR Therapeutics, ERS Genomics, Casebia Therapeutics, Editas Medicine, Agilent Technologies, Cellecta, Inc., GeneCopoeia, Inc., GenScript, New England Biolabs, Horizon Discovery Group, Synthego Corporation, Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT), Merck KGaA, Origene Technologies, Inc., and others.