The future of farming is reliant on scientific and technological breakthroughs. With constant developments being made, the landscape of agriculture is continuously changing. In particular, this is a result of the progress made in bioengineering. Bioengineering is the process which leads to genetically engineered products: specific tools allow the DNA and RNA of animals and plants to be efficiently edited, which leads to numerous advantages in agricultural production. But what is genome editing specifically, and how is it beneficial to farmers worldwide?
We’ve all heard the phrase: “it’s in your genes!”. Every organism has a set of DNA instructions which affects its state and behavior. Put simply, a genome is defined as “the genetic information of an organism”.
Genome editing – also known as gene editing or genome engineering – is, therefore, an assembly of technologies which allow scientists to change an organism’s DNA. We all know how advanced technology is nowadays! Fascinatingly, these genome editing technologies can add, remove or alter genetic material in particular parts of the genome. Think about it in relation to humans: if such technology was designed for the human body, we could edit out the genes we don’t like! That would certainly throw a spanner in the works in the whole nature vs. nurture debate...
However, when it comes to crops and plants, genome editing has a whole host of benefits for farmers. But more on that later! First things first, let’s explore the different approaches to genome editing. In all cases, the technology cuts the DNA in a specific place, allowing any alteration to occur. While more traditional approaches can still produce the desired end result, the most advanced technology has made the process much more accurate and efficient – not to mention cheaper! The latest editing tool is called CRISPR-Cas9.
Scientists see exciting potential for genome editing to prevent and treat a range of diseases, from cystic fibrosis to cancer. There are currently clinical trials taking place, to discover the safest, most ethical way to carry out genome editing on humans. While the opportunity for great progress in the medical field is reassuring, there is also widespread concern about the potentially damaging impact, if the technology ends up in the wrong hands. There have been several genome editing-related scandals which have made scientists consider the risks of leaping into a new age of human genome editing.
However, on a lighter note, there is no doubt about the plethora of benefits that genome editing bestows upon the agricultural industry. Scientists can edit the DNA of plants, animals and even bacteria. From a farmer’s perspective, this is particularly useful for modifying crops. Why? In editing certain parts of the crop’s DNA, it can make them more nutritious, and more resilient to its environmental challenges: from weather conditions to pests and diseases. This will naturally lead to healthier produce and a higher yield.
With the ever-growing population, there are increasing concerns about the level of food production being able to match the billions – and counting - who need feeding. Genome editing is an innovative way to alter the genes of crops to ensure they are in an optimum state to face whatever the environment throws at them!
Across the globe, there are plans to "unlock gene editing", and increase its role within the farming world. This, alongside other technological developments, is priming the industry to handle the growing demand for food production – while also prioritizing the need to shift in a more sustainable direction. Bioengineering, in any form, creates modified crops which are healthier, more resilient – and far more environmentally friendly, in both form and maintenance. This leads to our ultimate goal: releasing less greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, and thus significantly reducing our carbon footprint.
To conclude, while the future of genome editing in a human context is still uncertain, its prominence in the agricultural industry will continue to grow. As we cope with the increasing global population and focus our energy on combating the climate crisis, we predict that genome editing will be more central than ever.
To keep up to date with all the latest trends in the agricultural sector, stay tuned – there will be more exclusive insights on our blog soon!