CRISPR will bring huge shifts to agriculture, food sectors in next 5 years says founder

Gene modification involves mix-and-match of genes between organisms, or even across species.

Gene editing technology CRISPR has found itself in the news a whole lot since it was first invented and used in living systems in 2012 and 2013, respectively. It made waves throughout the global research community for the enormous potential and power packed into an easy-to-use laboratory kit.

One of the co-inventors of CRISPR, Dr Jennifer Doudna, thinks that the most powerful of its uses to go mainstream won't have anything to do with diseases or designer babies.

Instead, Doudna thinks its biggest impact will be in the fields of agriculture and food.

Gene editing technology has a variety of potential applications. Image: Getty

Gene editing technology has a variety of potential applications. Image: Getty

"In the next five years, the most profound thing we'll see in terms of CRISPR's effects on everyday lives will be in the agricultural sector," she told Business Insider. CRISPR'ed crops could go as far as alleviating problems like hunger and obesity by packing in genes for energy-rich and nutritious proteins in staple foods.

Gene-edited crops are very different from the controversial genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Gene modification involves mix-and-match of genes between organisms, or even across species. For instance, DNA can be picked up from a bacteria that is pesticide-resistant into cotton seeds that remain unaffected by pesticides in the environment lifelong.

Memphis Meats, a food technology startup backed by big names including Bill Gates and Richard Branson, has successfully even made real strips of meat and meatballs from animal cells (without killing any animals) using CRISPR.

Representational image.

Representational image.

The evolution of CRISPR as a technology has been slow and its progress marred by a lot of controversy in recent years. Proving the safety of a technique before diving into its novel uses in animals and humans is essential. This single step alone could take years in human beings since there aren't any long-term studies underway for gene-editing treatments in humans. However, those same limitations don't apply to the agriculture industry, which has already seen the same controversies in the genetically-modified organisms

The most recent controversy surrounding CRISPR came from Chinese researcher He Jiankui's gene edited human baby study. Though he was technically giving the twin girls a biological, life-long resistance to HIV infection, Jiankui flouted most of the code of conduct and ethical limitations to ensure his study continued.

He was eventually fired from his place of work and charged with ethical wrongdoing for overlooking ethical norms in China (the most liberal of countries with regard to regulations for gene editing).

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