Gene editing has the potential to underpin the next agricultural revolution. As a quicker, more accurate way of selecting desired genetic traits in plant breeding it offers the promise of a step-change increase in agricultural productivity, more durable pest and disease resistance, improved nutrition and resilience to climate change.
Gene editing is a new technique which allows a specific gene to be altered, but only at a very specific point, sometimes without the introduction of any new DNA. It means that plant breeders could precisely improve specific crop traits, for example disease resistance or drought resistance. This technique has been widely used in human, animal and plant cells.
NIAB research has shown that genetic innovation (in the form of new crop varieties) accounts for around 90% of yield gain over time in our major arable crops. No amount of investment in robotics, artificial intelligence, satellite and digital technologies can increase a crop’s basic genetic potential. In contrast, gene editing is the latest tool in our wheat breeding research which offer step-change increases in yield.
NIAB has recently published its latest findings showing that efficient gene editing in wheat is now possible with similar efficiencies of wheat transformation alone (BMC Plant Biology journal: Efficient generation of stable, heritable gene edits in wheat using CRISPR/Cas9).