CRISPR is Coming to Our Plates
A new technique is sneaking in our lives, potentially changing the foods we eat every day. From growing resilient crops, to boosting flavor to tackling allergens like gluten, gene-edited food brings to the table a new opportunity to improve health and pleasure, as well as fight climate change. And, most importantly, many scientists say they’re working only with nature’s own tools. Given the impressive change this could potentially bring to our farms, supermarkets and tables, let’s explore how gene-editing could change the world, and the challenging questions we should be asking.
On March 28, 2018, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the guidance of the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) made a big step, saying certain gene-edited plants can be designed, cultivated, and sold free from regulation. Going more into detail, biotechnology regulations state that USDA does not regulate or have any plans to regulate plants that could otherwise have been developed through traditional breeding techniques as long as they are not plant pests or developed using plant pests. This includes a set of new techniques that are increasingly being used by plant breeders to produce new plant varieties that are indistinguishable from those developed through traditional breeding methods. Among them, CRISPR.
CRISPR is a kind of molecular scissors that scientists can use to change or delete DNA sequences. The tool has been best known for its potential to prevent disease and fight cancer. But now it is being used to improve corn, wheat, rice, mushrooms, and other products. It could lead to hardier, more plentiful crops and tastier, cheaper, more nutritious food. Could CRISPR merely be a faster way of achieving what farmers have long accomplished with traditional techniques, such as seed selection, cross-breeding or mutagenesis? Probably, yes. But it’s not just this.
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