b'GENE EDITING: A NEW REVOLUTIONIN PLANT BREEDINGCrop improvement must play a large part in meeting the many challenges coming at agriculture.Nigel G. HalfordAGRICULTURE WILL FACE formation during processing, prevent unprecedented challenges in thebruising, improve disease resistance, coming decades: climate change, compe- delay fruit ripening, enhance fruit color tition for land use, insufficient fresh waterand increase the accumulation of bioac-supply, labor shortages and costs, loss oftive compounds in fruits. Indeed, gene crop protection products, coupled withedited tomatoes with increased concen-lack of investment in new crop protectiontrations of gamma aminobutyric acid chemistry, soil degradation, increasinghave been on the market in Japan since costs of mineral fertilisers, and a demand2021. Notably, Japan has been implacably from government to decrease its carbonopposed to the cultivation of GM crops footprint, much of which is accountedsince the 1990s but is clearly taking a very for by nitrogen fertiliser production. Atdifferent approach to gene edited crops. the same time, agriculture is expected toThere is a lot of excitement sur-supply a growing population that con- rounding gene edited crops in Japan, sumes more food per capita than everwith scientists, innovators, investors and before and is increasingly aware of foodcompanies, small and large, all get-safety, quality and nutritional issues, asting involved. The same is true in other well meeting an increasing demand forparts of Asia as well as North and South its products for non-food uses, includingAmerica, where a more relaxed regulatory bioethanol, biodiesel and industrial starchMaturing grain from gene edited, lowsystem than that applied to GM crops is acrylamide wheat. Acrylamide is a production.processing contaminant and its formation isencouraging investment and activity. Plant breeders will have to use all ofreduced by up to 90% in the edited lines.The EU, on the other hand, remains the tools available to them if they are toin a regulatory quagmire, with gene produce the varieties of the future in time.sophisticated ways have been developededited crops currently required to go Fortunately, we are also in an era of rapidand continue to emerge, suggesting thatthrough the tortuous risk assessment advancement in genetic technologiesthe full potential of gene editing has stilland approval process that has utterly and a genomics/biotechnology revolu- to be realised.stymied the development of GM crops in tion in plant sciences. The most recentThere may be some overlap betweenEurope for a generation. The European addition to the genetic toolbox is gene (orgenetic modification and gene editing inParliament has been moving towards genome) editing, an umbrella term for asome definitions (the EU currently makeseasing regulations on gene edited crops suite of technologies including oligonucle- no distinction between them in its regula- but has just voted to carry the process otide-directed mutagenesis (ODM) andtory processes), but the two techniquesover to the next Parliament, so nothing is methods involving site-directed nucleasesshould not be conflated. The simplest dis- likely to happen soon. As with GM crops, (SDNs), the best known and most widelytinction and the one that consumers arethe EU position creates a wet blanket that used of which are TALENS and CRISPR/ likely to understand most clearly is thatstretches well beyond the EUs borders, CAS9. As with genetic modificationa genetically modified plant contains anand breeders in the UK, for example, before it, gene editing enables breedersadditional gene, possibly from a differentmay well wait for the EU to move before to do some things that are not possiblespecies or synthesised in a lab, whereasadopting gene editing as a tool, despite by other methods, by making specificthere is no additional gene present at thethe UKs different regulatory position. This changes to a target gene or genes in aend of the gene editing process.means that, as with GM, EU and other plant. The simplest outcome of this mayGene editing has been used to impartEuropean breeders will be left behind, be to render the gene or the proteinherbicide tolerance, modify oil content,and farmers and consumers will not get it encodes dysfunctional, but editingchange starch composition for industrialthe benefits that gene editing could bring, techniques that change a gene in moreapplications, reduce the risk of acrylamideat least in the foreseeable future.SW34/ SEEDWORLD.COMINTERNATIONAL EDITION 2024'