Gene-edited corn could be in farm fields in a few years

May 4, 2016

Credit Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

From Harvest Public Media:

Science’s hottest new tool looks like it will be coming soon to the Corn Belt.

Iowa’s DuPont Pioneer, the second-largest seed company in the world, announced this week that it plans to sell a new form of corn created with CRISPR-Cas plant breeding technology, the much-ballyhooed gene-editing tool. While the product  still has to undergo field tests and further regulatory review, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says unlike other plants whose genomes have been altered with older technology, DuPont Pioneer’s new variety is not required to undergo review under plant protection protocols.

The company says its new hybrid variety of waxy corn, a corn that contains high levels of starch and is used in both processed food and industrial products, is expected to be available to farmers within five years. Waxy corn is grown on hundreds of thousands of acres, but as FERN’s Chuck Abbott notes, it makes up just a fraction of U.S. corn plantings, which typically exceed 90 million acres.

While other companies have reportedly begun to experiment with CRISPR-created farm crops, DuPont Pioneer’s waxy corn may be among the first of the big crops to make it to market in the U.S. One group of disease-resistant pigs has been developed using the technology by the University of Missouri and Kansas State University, as well.

The USDA’s decision comes after the agency announced it would not require a mushroom variety created with CRISPR technology to undergo its regulatory process. As Emily Waltz notes at Nature.com:

The mushroom is one of about 30 genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to sidestep the USDA regulatory system in the past five years. In each case, the agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has said that the organisms — mostly plants — do not qualify as something the agency must regulate. (Once a crop passes the USDA reviews, it may still undergo a voluntary review by the US Food and Drug Administration.)

Current USDA regulations mandate that the agency’s APHIS approve certain genetically engineered crops that have the potential to be plant pests. Often, that means the agency regulates crops that have been created by introducing foreign DNA from pests such as viruses or bacteria, a common process in creating genetically engineered organisms.

CRISPR technology deletes segments of an organism’s own genome to engineer the expression of a particular trait. The technique is coming into wide use just as the U.S. is rewriting its regulations of genetically engineered crops.