Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association
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Could CRISPR-Engineered Crops help Solve the World’s Food Crisis?

With the United Nations (UN) projecting that the world population will reach 8.5 billion by the year 2030 and 9.7 billion by 2050, an increasingly pressing question is how will we provide enough food for this many people without putting more pressure on our already strained resources and planet? One potential solution being investigated is that of crop plants, which can now be precisely enhanced using advanced technologies like CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) engineering, to be more resilient to pests and climatic stresses, as well produce higher yields.
As early as 2007, Dr Feng Zhang, PhD, an Assistant Professor at the Center for Precision Plant Genomics and Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at the University of Minnesota, was looking into ways of improving genome editing technologies for the genetic engineering of plants. Towards the end of 2009, he co-developed an important genetic engineering technology based on transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALEN), which are enzymes that can be tailored to cut specific sequences of DNA. TALENs greatly improved the efficiency and precision of genetic engineering in plants. Since then, genome editing technologies have evolved rapidly, and CRISPR has emerged as a much more efficient, precise and simple technology to use. Now, Dr Zhang and his team use CRISPR exclusively for their research into improving food crops. He continues to lead projects aimed at not only developing better crops but also at refining CRISPR technologies for application in plants.
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