Gene-editing techniques are booming. With continued improvements, higher editing success rates and cheaper methods are expected. The positive applications include higher productivity in crop and livestock production as a result of improved plant and animal genetics. Innovative new crop and livestock inputs, such as better probiotics to enhance animal gut health, and new biologicals for crop protection and nutrient uptake can also be expected.
Gene-editing technology, already being applied in humans, plants, animals, and microorganisms, has a vast impact on several areas and industries. As genes are the code for physical traits – such as yield, disease resistance, and appearance – the power of gene editing unlocks possibilities for designing a biological system to suit one’s needs. “Gene editing can greatly reduce the time and cost of plant and animal breeding, which is crucial for a resilient supply chain, especially in this era marked by climate change. Also, it offers added value through innovative products and longer shelf life,” according to Chia-Kai Kang, Analyst – Farm Inputs for Rabobank.
Most applications of gene editing lay in microorganisms, followed by plants and animals. Rabobank assessed the possibilities of gene-editing applications in these three systems, considering the complexity of each system, research costs, and the reputation of the final product within the society. “Based on these criteria, microorganisms have the greatest potential for deploying gene technology since it involves the lowest cost, compared to plant and animal systems, while it is also the simplest system and has a neutral social reputation,” explains Kang. Plants would take second place, followed by animals.
The use of this technology in food and agribusiness is broad, and the impact is growing. Examples of companies making use of it to improve production abound. In crop farming, for instance, a company produces microorganisms for corn, which colonize in the root and can fix nitrogen, reducing the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Another company uses microorganisms for pest control, including insecticide, fungicide, herbicide.
“Using gene-editing technology, the efficacy of these microorganism-based farm inputs can be increased, leading to higher acceptance rates. This is expected to change farming practices in the long run,” says Kang.