Genome editing has the potential to reshape agriculture

With climate change, an increase in animal diseases and more demanding consumers wanting fewer antibiotics to be used, future agricultural production will need to change, but is genome editing part of the solution?


n a bid to assess how the mind-set is changing All About Feed speaks exclusively with Diane Wray-Cahen, Senior Science Ad- visor for agricultural biotechnologies at the Foreign Agricul- tural Service (FAS), an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

All About Feed: Please explain the focus of your current work?

DWC My job at FAS focuses on scientific and regulatory develop- ments associated with agricultural biotechnologies, including ge- nome editing, and on the potential impact of these technologies on US agricultural innovation, trade and policy. I work with offi- cials in other countries to encourage informed and rational re- sponses to new agricultural biotechnologies and to promote science-based and risk-proportionate standards and regulatory approaches globally.

What do you feel are the real benefits of gene editing in plants/livestock? While genome editing is certainly not a silver bullet for solving all agricultural challenges, in my opinion, it is the most promising and innovative technology for agricultural breeding that I have seen in the last 30 years. It has the potential to reshape how we use agricultural biotechnologies as part of conventional breeding programs, combining it with the information gained from crop and livestock genome sequencing. Because certain tools of ge- nome editing, such as CRISPR-Cas9, can be used in various species and cost less than other technologies, researchers all over the world are using genome editing technologies to develop

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solutions to agricultural problems, be it in Brazil, Australia, Kenya or India. An additional advantage of genome editing is that it also has the potential to introduce characteristics that farmers need, while helping increase and protect genetic diversity in livestock and crops. For example, a rare cattle breed could be made more tolerant to changing climate conditions or emerging diseases without losing the other characteristics of the breed. One huge benefit for both the plant and animal agricultural industries is that genome editing can be used to reduce the time it takes to create new varieties of plants and to introduce new traits into livestock, as well as to introduce some traits that may not be avail- able in the breeding pool, such as pest or disease resistance. This is true for all agricultural breeding, but the impact is even greater with plants and animals with long generation times, such as cattle or trees, where it can take decades of breeding and back crossing to introduce some traits.

Do you think there is a need for gene editing in the agricultural industry today? New innovations are constantly needed for agriculture in order to meet new challenges. Genome editing is one of these new inno- vations and yes, it is one of the tools that our farmers and plant and animal breeders will need to meet both current and emerg- ing challenges of changing climate conditions and constantly evolving disease and pest pressures.

Is the market ready for gene editing? Around the world or in some specific countries? One of the main market barriers for agricultural products of ge- nome editing is the regulatory approach that some countries, such as those in the EU, may take and the current uncertainty for

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