Consider this: It took thousands of years for the world’s population to reach 1 billion. Yet in just around 200 years it has suddenly increased sevenfold.
The United Nations estimated that the world’s population reached 7.9 billion in December, exceeding agricultural capacity and posing more challenges, including hunger, malnutrition, climate change and dwindling natural resources made worse by the Covid pandemic. -19.
New breeding innovations
New innovations in breeding, including genome editing, are a game-changer in food and agriculture, with the promise of improvements, such as increased yields and protection against pests and diseases.
While the development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) involves the insertion of genes from other organisms, genome (gene) editing is a new breeding technique that allows scientists to improve the characteristics of living organisms. , including plants, animals and microbes.
Technologies used for genome editing work like molecular scissors, cutting DNA at a specific location, then removing, adding, or replacing known DNA sequences where the cut was made.
The technologies most used in genome editing are regularly spaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) associated with protein 9 (CRISPR-Cas9), effector nucleases of the transcription activator type (Talens), zinc finger nucleases (ZFN) and homing endonucleases or meganucleases.
CRISPR-Cas9 technology can be applied to almost any organism, with many potential applications in medicine and agriculture.
It could be used in crops to improve characteristics, such as yield, plant architecture, plant aesthetics, and disease tolerance.
Talens can be used to protect plants from the effects of climate change. The technology has been used in the improvement of crops, such as soybeans, rice, potatoes, corn, and wheat.
Genetically engineered soybean plants that produce premium high-oleic soybean oil sold as Calyno by Calyxt became available in the U.S. market in 2019, making it the first product released in 2019. from a genetically modified plant.
Launching the primer
The enormous interest in these new techniques has led the International Service for the Acquisition of Agro-Biotechnology Applications (ISAAA), in collaboration with the Biotechnology Program Office of the Ministry of Agriculture (DA) and the Biotech Coalition from the Philippines to publish a primer on New Breeding Innovations titled, “Breaking Barriers Through Breeding: An Introduction to New Breeding Innovations for Food Security,” on 13 December.
The primer, published under the title ISAAA Brief 56, aims to raise public awareness and better appreciate new breeding innovations, their products, their regulations, their prospects and their contribution to food safety.
A team of international experts on new breeding innovations from Argentina, Kenya, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and the United States have authored the seven chapters of the introduction to ensure that the technology is covered with precision in the right perspective, with a preface written by Dr Rhodora Romero-Aldemita.
The first two chapters of the introduction focused on the tools and techniques for breeding plants and animals using genome editing, while the third chapter dealt with the regulation of breeding innovations. in agriculture.
Two successive chapters presented the prospects for new breeding innovations in Asia and Africa and the final two chapters explored the communication of genome editing and the potential contributions of new breeding innovations to food security.
Threats to food security
ISAAA Board Chairman Dr Paul S. Teng was one of the nine authors of the introduction. He was the keynote speaker at the virtual launch of the hour-long primer.
Teng, a food security expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, focused on the challenges the world faces in feeding and clothing.
Many food security threats became more evident during the Covid-19 pandemic, he said.
“We really need new technologies and new mindsets to use these new technologies to produce more and reduce waste,” Teng added.
He also pointed out that new breeding innovations offer opportunities to increase crop yield potential using existing genomes and the possibility of breeding plant varieties capable of withstanding abiotic stresses, such as flooding and flooding. drought.
Better solutions and more choices
DA Biotech Program Office Coordinator-Director Annalyn Lopez said at the launch of the primer that agricultural innovations continue to provide better solutions and greater choices for farmers and consumers around the world.
“Innovations in plant breeding or new breeding techniques have enabled the efficient development of new varieties of crops and animals with high yields, more adaptable to extreme climatic conditions, more resistant to pests and diseases, and more nutritious. faster and more accurately than conventional breeding techniques.
Lopez cited the ongoing policy discussions at the Philippine National Biosafety Committee (NCBP) and the resolution on the regulation of plants and plant products derived from plant breeding innovations and new breeding techniques.
The resolution published in April 2021 states that products of plant breeding innovations that do not have a new combination of genetic material will not be covered by existing regulations for GMOs.
Genome editing allows scientists to make precise changes because it is more focused and speeds up the process by decades, according to Dr. Justin Bredlau, a science and technology researcher at the US Department of Agriculture-Office of the Scientist in leader and co-author of the chapter “From laboratories to farmers: new breeding choices for better breeding”.
He added at the launch event that researchers are using genome editing to develop animals capable of resisting deadly diseases like African swine fever, tuberculosis, foot-and-mouth disease and avian flu.
Philippine Seed Industry Association Executive Director Dr Gabriel O. Romero, author of the chapter “Prospects for New Breeding Innovations in South and Southeast Asia,” said Asian countries that were previously cautious in the adoption of GMOs may have to reconsider their approach now that the power of gene editing and its benefits are available.
Support for agricultural applications available
In Africa, new breeding innovations are important tools the continent is considering to improve agricultural productivity of crops and livestock, said ISAAA AfriCenter Director Dr Margaret Karembu.
The co-author of the chapter “Prospects for new breeding innovations in Africa,” Karembu said in a video post that new breeding innovations must help sub-Saharan Africa address agricultural challenges such as pests, disease and drought.
The message from ISAAA Global Coordinator Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan centers on the possibilities offered by new breeding innovations.
“This technology can support all applications currently available in agriculture to ensure food security, nutrition security and reduce waste, leading to sustainable food production,” said Arujanan.
The introductory chapter written by Dr Diana Horvath of the 2Blades Foundation dealt with Talens, one of the tools of new breeding innovations with practical applications in plant science and other biosciences.
Dr Martin Lema’s chapter presented the regulation of breeding innovations in agriculture (crops and animals) in different countries and regions of the world.
Growing interest in new breeding innovations
The primer launch was attended by nearly 100 participants from 11 countries who were the first group of people to gain access to the primer.
ISAAA has been at the forefront of promoting education and information sharing on new breeding innovations, including genome (or gene) editing since 2016.
Refereed journal articles are published weekly in Crop Biotech Update, along with regulatory updates and other relevant news on genome editing from credible sources.
In July 2020, the Genome Editing Resource page was launched on the ISAAA website and has since attracted over 6,000 unique pageviews.
Interest in genome editing in crops, livestock, aquaculture and health was evident in the large number of participants in ISAAA’s webinar series on genome editing with estimated reach. to 18,000 in 70 countries in almost two years.
The downloadable PDF of the primer is available on the Brief 56 page on the ISAAA website.
Image courtesy of ISAAA photo