Gene Editing – Boon or Bane for the Agricultural Industry

Gene editing is a revolutionary technology and with its advent, we have come closer to editing of targeted regions in DNA. There are many gene editing technologies currently available, but CRIPSR has taken the world by storm. Much can be attributed to its incredible precision, cost and time efficiency, especially when compared to traditional gene editing methods. Evidently, patent filings for CRIPSR have moved at an unprecedented rate since 2011. The patent implementation is focused on treating genetic diseases, development of antibiotics and antivirals.

Its possibilities, however, are countless.

Agriculture is one of them

Imagine if we are able to create crops that are more resistant to abiotic stresses (such as drought, excessive watering, extreme temperatures, salinity and mineral toxicity); or create crops that are more nutritious – we might be able to solve the problem of food scarcity and malnutrition around the world. But the extent to which gene editing could benefit this industry depends entirely on how the genetically modified food are regulated around the world.

Also Read: The Rise of Biosimilars

The US stance on GM food technology

The USA is one of the key players in the development of this technology, as well as its adoption. Examples of gene-edited crops already in the US market include:

  • a browning-resistant button mushroom,
  • an improved storage potato and
  • a waxy maize variety that produces higher starch content for processors.

China and European Union’s stance on GM food technology

The European Union (EU) imposes stricter approval and labelling requirements for GM foods, demanding a risk assessment for all new GM foods and feeds before marketing, and a compulsory labelling of GM foods.

Similarly, China (a country with nearly 19% of the world’s population and only 7% of the world’s arable land) does not allow for the cultivation of GM foods, except for papaya and cotton. According to the data published by the MOA on April 27, 2013, China grew 3.3 million hectares of the approved cotton and a few hectares of the papaya, while the other GM crops had not been cultivated (by 2010).

However, in the recent years, China has taken an opposite approach as patent filings in this geography have increased substantially since 2015. With acquisition of Syngenta by ChemChina in February 2016, China is definitely moving forward with the genetically modified food technology. Syngenta is a producer of agrochemicals and hybrid seeds and also conducts genomic research to develop GM (genetically modified) crop seeds.

Few of the key players in this domain are:

Threats / Hindrances:

Key hindrance to the adoption of this technology is the opposition by consumers. World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM [genetically modified] crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques. However, the worldwide adoption of GM foods is far from reality. Based on the various studies conducted across many countries, misinformation among consumers is the main reason behind this opposition.

Comments for Gene Editing:

Gene editing (mainly CRISPR) is an innovative technology and many countries need to realize the benefit of this technology similar to USA and China. Early adoption of the technology will be a key factor in profiting from the technology in later stages. It will be interesting to see the stance of various countries with further development of this technology.

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