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Precision in gene editing presents great potential

Kirk Reese, DuPont Pioneer Agronomy Research Manager, spoke to teachers at the Ohio Soybean Council-sponsored Ag Biotech Academy workshop about CRISPR-CAS technology, a bacterial immune system used to make precise genetic changes within organisms. “DNA breaks and repairs are happening constantly in nature,” said Reese. “But finding them is like looking for a needle—not in a haystack, but in the universe! CRISPR-CAS allows us to work efficiently on genetic transformation.”

As part of the Ag Biotech Academy workshop, teachers worked on the “Moving Genes” lesson, an introduction to genetic engineering through gel electrophoresis. CRISPR-CAS is being used in medicine and crop seed enhancement applications. Reese shared about current research and development specifically on soybean targets to increase oil and protein content, improve herbicide tolerance, and resist disease.

In the past, gene editing was imprecise, time-consuming, and often resulted in unanticipated mutations. CRISPR-CAS makes it possible to find the targeted sequence of interest, then insert or delete sequences. While breeding efforts have historically been focused on increasing yield, the precision and efficiency of CRISPR-CAS allows researchers to work on secondary targets such as drought tolerance.

Reese said DuPont Pioneer is eager to find workers interested in this kind of research. Ag in general, Reese said, has many career opportunities. “The average age of a farmer today is 58. Kids are leaving the farm and not coming back.” Reese said, “Today, you can write your own ticket if you are wiling to go into ag-related careers.”

Interested in the latest ag research? Pioneer’s GrowingPoint is a free agronomy app with crop articles and photos related to weed and pest management, management zones and more. Show your students how STEM looks in the field!

(illustration from Xue Lab, umassmed.edu)

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