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University of Saskatchewan paper:

“There must be public support for gene-editing revolution”

Gene editing will become the next big thing in plant science, crop development and agriculture only if the public accepts the technology. It has the potential to change agriculture, but only if consumers believe it’s beneficial.

Experts believe gene editing of crops has more potential than genetic modification or conventional plant breeding. That’s the finding of a University of Saskatchewan research paper, published March 4. It’s important that experts, academics, government officials and agri-business professionals believe in the power of gene-editing technology, but their opinion really doesn’t matter.

Gene editing will become the next big thing in plant science, crop development and agriculture only if the public accepts the technology. The best way and maybe the only way to get the public onside is to give them food traits and crop attributes they want.

“If you like avocados and you don’t want them to be brown and you choose a gene-edited avocado because of that, you’re just not going to care about gene-edited tilapia, or soybeans or whatever. You’re just going to forget about it,” said Jack Bobo, vice-president of global policy and government affairs with Intrexon, an American firm that produces a number of biotech products, including the non-browning Arctic Apple.

“That’s the approach we take at Intrexon. If you give people products that they want to love, the conversation is over.”

The University of Saskatchewan survey carried out in early 2018 talked to 114 people who work in plant science and biotechnology. The online survey asked experts about the potential benefits of gene-edited crops, compared to crops developed with genetic modification or conventional plant breeding.

Gene editing, using a technique called CRISPR, has been touted for years as the next big thing in plant science. It allows researchers to precisely change genes in a targeted area of a plant’s DNA.

That’s different from GM technology, or transgenics, where DNA from another species is added to a plant’s DNA.

The regulatory cost of gene editing should be much lower than GM crops and the technology is much faster than conventional breeding.

“The primary finding of this (survey) is that there is a consensus among experts on the expected greater agronomic performance and product quality of site-specific edited crops — those free from foreign DNA will be more competitive than GM and (conventional breeding) counterparts,” the U of S scientists wrote in the paper, published in Transgenic Research.

“Such new crops have the potential to deliver a greater diversity of traits and varieties in a quicker and less costly way.”


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