AFBF Fosters Discussion on Gene Editing Technology's Potential to Revolutionize the Ag IndustryTue, 09 Jan 2018 14:55:27 CST
Gene editing holds the potential to revolutionize agriculture, according to expert speakers at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 2018 Annual Convention & IDEAg Trade Show.
Addressing farmer and rancher attendees in separate workshops, the University of Florida’s Dr. Kevin Folta and Dr. Alison Van Eenanaam with the University of California, Davis, coupled their enthusiasm for the practical benefits gene editing can bring with calls for supporters to share the science with consumers.
“Gene editing will revolutionize agriculture,” said Folta. “Farmers and scientists need to be at the forefront, driving the conversation on innovation and its benefits to consumers.” He cited non-browning fruits and vegetables and an end to citrus greening disease as production agriculture examples.
Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Farm Director Ron Hays had the chance to speak with Folta at the event, during which he described the potential applications of this rapidly developing technology.
“To me, it’s a national security issue,” he said. “This ensures the food supply. We can create changes to ensure uninterrupted delivery of fruits and vegetables. We can do this on the scale of months to weeks rather than years to decades. This is a really, really huge breakthrough and we need to be accelerating.”
Folta took a moment to explain the science that is actually behind the term “gene editing.” According to him, the entire technology is based on just a couple of molecules, each with its own specific function. One molecule he says acts as scissors, able to “cut” genetic material. That molecule is given very specific instructions, so to speak, based on DNA sequence. Essentially, he says the technology is used to make minor tweaks in the genetic blueprint of an animal or plant to get a desired product. The beauty of it, Folta believes, lies in the technology’s precision. Despite his enthusiasm, though, the technology has gained many critics - still debating on the technology’s safety and whether or not it should be considered a tool for the advancement of GMOs, or genetically modified organisms.
“It really isn’t,” he replied, referring to gene editing’s classification as a GMO technology. “What we’re doing here is using technology to create a product that is identical to what can happen by traditional breeding. It’s just another way of accelerating genetic improvement.”
While this new scientific innovation holds great potential in agriculture, Folta says the most dramatic advancements on the horizon will be seen in human medicine. He says the benefits to that discipline in regards to this technology are inspiring.
“We need to share the science and communicate the benefits of gene editing, starting with medical benefits that consumers can support and relate to,” he said. Cancer therapy for infants and elimination of food allergies developed through gene editing are just a couple of examples.
Van Eenanaam described gene editing as “the cherry on top of conventional animal breeding programs,” which has the potential to benefit farmers through applications such as disease resistance and hornless dairy cattle. She noted that the current regulatory environment is a major stumbling block to making applications of gene editing technology widely available. In fact, there are no animals produced with gene editing available in the U.S.
“Regulatory processes should be proportional to risk,” Van Eenanaam said. “The regulatory burden for animals produced with gene editing is disproportionately high, with unaccountable delays. There is an urgent need to ensure a science-based process focused on novel product risk for the use of gene editing in ag breeding programs,” she said.
You can listen to Hays’ complete interview with Folta, by clicking or tapping the LISTEN BAR below.
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