Since the 2000s, floods have multiplied four-fold, and droughts have surged by over a third in a generation. Experts have predicted for a long time that crop failures can be aggravated by climatic variability, potentially leading to food shortages. This threat is especially true for drier conditions which can make crops susceptible to disease and pests. By 2050, the UN estimates, we’ll need to produce 50% more food to support the world’s expanding population. However, the majority of our prime farmland is already in use and suffers from the effects of over-use. Therefore, we must find a way to grow more food on the same or lesser land.
AN EMERGING TECHNOLOGY, GENE EDITING CAN HELP DEAL WITH GLOBAL FOOD CHALLENGES
Scientists have been working on emerging technologies that can help improve desirable characteristics of a plant by leveraging its genetic code. Academic researchers and agri-businesses are modifying staple crops with revolutionary gene-editing technologies to make them more resilient to changing climate and address the growing worries about food security. CRISPR gene-editing technology, a new biological method for creating commercially valuable crop characteristics, has recently attracted scientific interest. Scientists expect CRISPR to improve environmental sustainability, food quality, and production.
UNDERSTANDING THE POTENTIAL OF GENE EDITING AND CRISPR
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat, or CRISPR is a relatively recent method of modifying an organism’s genome. This powerful CRISPR technology enables scientists to change DNA sequences and adjust gene function in species more quickly. Gene-edited plants differ from the GMOs as they mostly do not have introduced DNA . Instead, many of the CRISPR-edited plants could appear naturally in nature — due to spontaneous mutations. This process not only makes obtaining regulatory approval easier, but it may also promote public acceptance, which is essential for making CRISPR-edited food acceptance for consumers. Here are some ways scientists are utilizing CRISPR to create healthier, more enticing, and more durable foods.
Our brains naturally create the chemical Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which could help treat high blood pressure, sleeplessness, and other health issues in addition to reducing stress and anxiety, according to research that has connected GABA to these effects. Now, people in Japan can enhance their GABA consumption without using supplements by consuming a gene-edited cultivar of tomatoes designed to generate less of an enzyme that degrades the fruit’s natural GABA.
Researchers from China and Germany deactivated a maize kernel-producing gene in corn using CRISPR technology – with an increase to 16 from 14 rows per ear, corn yields rose by 10%. A similar gene was silenced in rice, increasing yields by 8%.
A leafy vegetable with lots of nutrients, mustard greens have fewer calories. Still, due to a reaction between two ingredients, they have a notably bitter flavor, which may deter some grocery shoppers from adding them to their carts. A food-tech company has created mustard greens with a softer taste by editing off one of the two bitterness-causing elements using CRISPR.
“Polyphenol Oxidases” (PPOs) cause the starches in a potato to react with the air when it is chopped or peeled, turning the flesh brown; this can reduce the potato’s nutritional value and make it appear less appetizing. In 2020, Argentine researchers shared that they had silenced using CRISPR a gene that triggers cells to make PPOs, leading to potatoes that brown slowly.
African bananas are susceptible to the bacterial disease banana xanthomonas wilt (BXW), which is particularly contagious. It has cost, the economy billions of dollars in losses over the last ten years and put millions of people’s jobs and food security in danger. Researchers in Kenya are using CRISPR to decrease the expression of specific genes that rise in infected banana plants, resulting in bananas that are resistant to BWX.
Latest developments in technology, genomic sequencing, and artificial intelligence have made it possible to significantly alter how plants have been grown in the last ten years. Using these technologies, we can strive toward producing enough food and fiber for everyone on the planet while ensuring that the environment and farming communities are well-cared for. Agricultural institutions and governments should collaborate to make science-based decisions to establish a direct road to market that is open to businesses and organizations of all sizes to maximize the benefits for all.