Improving the quality and productivity of crops by modifying their original properties to increase resistance to pests and extreme weather has been going on for ages. Recently, however, a team from RIKEN and Kyoto University has become the first in the world to efficiently control the proteins that impact the characteristics of an organism by simply aiming at the small organs inside cells and spraying nucleic acid onto them.
“Hybridization is among the methods that are used to alter characteristics. It involves crossing plants of different species, for example a variety that tastes good with one that is resistant to pests, to create a new plant that inherits both positive traits. However, it takes several hundred or even several thousand years of crossbreeding to select the traits. Developing a new species in this way is a long process.
Genetic modification brings out certain traits by inserting genes that relate to the given trait, such as genes that are resistant to droughts and genes that grow larger fruits, into the genome of crops. But, where the genes will end up among the original genome is up to chance, possibly introducing undesirable traits. As such, it is necessary to strictly manage the safety and selection of species, which requires time, effort, and a high cost.
In recent years, genome editing has also attracted attention. Instead of introducing new genes from outside, traits are modified by cutting and editing a specific gene in the existing genome using enzyme “scissors.” For example, if there is a gene that limits the production of nutrients, it can be destroyed to produce more nutritious crops. However, this method also requires effort, cost, and a high degree of safety.
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