How gene-editing wheat could solve food security, climate change and farm profitability

Australian seed breeder Integrain has embarked on a trial to grow gene-edited seeds in a greenhouse setting.

Earlier this year, the Perth-headquartered company – which is majority-owned by the Western Australia State Government, along with the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) – imported wheat seeds that had been created by Inari. The US agritech firm uses artificial intelligence (AI) to map potential gene edits before applying CRISPR-Cas to change the seeds’ DNA genes.

CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a revolutionary tech used for editing genomes that allows scientists to alter multiple DNA sequences simultaneously, while CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins are enzymes that are guided to specific locations in the genome by RNA molecules to make a cut in the DNA.

Advocates of gene-editing say the cutting-edge process could create more nutritious, hardier crops with 10% higher yields and less need for water, fertilizer and chemicals.

And unlike genetic modification (GM),​​ gene-editing doesn’t introduce foreign DNA, instead manipulating the existing natural genome. As such, regulators see it as less risky than GMO and closer to traditional plant breeding – a major reason why the Chinese government recently gave a gene-edited wheat variety the green light to be produced on a commercial scale.

Higher productivity

Pic: GettyImages/Monty Rakusen

According to two agritech companies, gene editing could achieve gains 10-15 times faster than traditional plant breeding.

Additionally, China’s approval comes on the back of the gene-edited wheat’s disease-resistant ability, ​​along with its potential to open up technological prospects for other GM crops intended for human consumption. As it is, the Ministry has given the green light for a new biotech corn variety with herbicide and insect-resistant traits, along with a high-yielding gene-edited corn hybrid.