Reid Rice, research scientist for Pioneer, shared information about current seed research projects with the teachers at Ohio Soybean Council-sponsored Ag Biotech Academy. The participants learned about biotech in seed science.
Rice said, “Trait selection in crop and animal species has been going on for about ten thousand years.” Hybridization was put into practice about a hundred years ago to increase yield. In the 1970s and 1980s, seeds were modified to make the plants resistant to herbicides. Now, thanks to gene editing, modified soybeans have increased drought tolerance, improved oil composition, and other beneficial traits.
The tool making such modifications possible is CRISPR-Cas. Its development in the early 2000s allowed scientists to work at specifically chosen DNA sites. While genetic modification allows changes to organisms, CRISPR gene editing technology allows changes to be made in a very precise and targeted manner. CRISPR uses native DNA, and the changes effected are things that could have developed naturally through evolutionary modification.
Other crop research projects involve creating more compact tomato plants with larger fruits and resistance to bacterial spot disease, increasing the yield of rice, and modifying cacao plants’ resistance to disease and preventing eventual extinction.
“It’s going to be challenging to feed everybody…. If we can increase yield, that will help,” said Rice. And hopefully we won’t have to ever go without chocolate!!