Monsanto licenses CRISPR technology to modify crops — with key restrictions

Agriculture giant Monsanto has authorized CRISPR-Cas9 editing technology Broad Institute’s genome for use in seed development, the company announced on Thursday a step that is likely to accelerate and simplify the creation of crops resistant to drought or have consumer properties please such as soybean oil with healthy fats such as olive oil.

However, the deal comes with restrictions that speak of the amazing power of CRISPR and widespread public anxiety about genetically modified crops: Monsanto can not use it to unit genes the controversial technique that can run a feature across an entire population, with unknown consequences.

Since 2013, the Broadband has issued more than a dozen licenses for commercial research using CRISPR-Cas9, including Editas Medicine GE Healthcare and Evotec . This is the first for agricultural use. Genome editing crop has the potential to increase yields, reduce the use of chemical pesticides (a plant can be genetically modified to thwart the insects), and making tolerant strains droughts are becoming more frequent with climate change global.

However, “as in biomedicine, using genome editing in agriculture raises important ethical and safety concerns,” Issi Rozen, business director of the Broad, wrote in an entry blog .

Leading the list of concerns is the unit of genes, which based editing CRISPR genome alters the normal inheritance, so that traits are always transmitted to offspring. That a new gene could spread across an entire population in just a few generations. If the feature is, for example, the ability to kill insects, then make the ubiquitous gene in culture could pose a threat to the unknown ecosystems, a recent Superior Council for Scientific Research report he said.

The broad also stipulates that Monsanto does not use CRISPR-Cas9 to create sterile seeds ( “Terminator”). In this approach, genetically altered crops do not produce fertile seeds, so farmers must buy every year, a financial burden for them, but a boon for seed companies. Without this type of crops they have been commercially deployed, and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity recommends that not develop.

exclusive license can not not be used for any R & D on snuff that is related to smoking. This could include making plants tolerant to extreme temperatures or pests, which could increase the yields that farmers receive for their harmful product.

Monsanto, which agreed this month to be acquired by German drugmaker Bayer and pesticides, has long been a leader in the controversial development of GMOs (genetically modified organisms). From the 1990s corn, soybean, canola and other crops that are genetically modified to resist its Roundup herbicide, for example, allowing farmers to apply without collateral damage and increase their performance was introduced. Because the safety of GMOs into ecosystems has not been demonstrated to the satisfaction of many environmental groups, and because its presence in food has to labeling recently not required, which have prompted controversy worldwide for over a decade.

Monsanto believes CRISPR be much more powerful than the technique behind OMG decades. This technology insert foreign genes into random sites in the genome of a plant. The vast majority of these insertions do not work as intended, said Tom Adams, who heads the efforts of biotechnology Monsanto, so changing the characteristics of a crop takes years.

“But with the release of the genome, you can target a feature wherever you go, and you can link features so that they are next to each other” and passed reliably together on future generations, he said before STAT announcing licensing.

also he said, on GMOs “still has the gene that was there originally,” which can act as a brake on the new feature. When CRISPR alters a gene in a way that causes a stress tolerant, plant diseases or pests, however, the original non-tolerant gene has been lost, as a corrected error. Due to its precision and power, with CRISPR, “I think we will see an acceleration” in changing crop traits’ compared to the pace that traditional GMO-creation allowed, Adams said.

CRISPR is tempting to seed companies for another reason. The United States Department of Agriculture has said that because the technique is not a foreign gene inserted into plants, but either deletes or modifies a one CRISPR’d existing crops (such as a fungus do not turn brown when cut, or drought tolerant corn is being developed by DuPont Pioneer) do not require regulatory approval as GM do.

This has alarmed some traditional enemies of GMOs. “We are not happy with the current regulatory approach,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch. CRISPR’d crops could present problems “like” security, according to GM do, she said: “Do we really understand what the authors say we do – that is so precise genome editing is nothing that affects That presumes a level of knowledge about the complex biochemical processes that’m not sure we have. ”

Adams said drive gene and terminator genes “are not things we wanted to do with technology anyway. We agree that unity of genes is better not to advance at this time. We see a great potential, it is very tempting to use “but will not” until we know how to control it. “

Several other companies are hot in pursuit crop genome-edited. The Calyxt subsidiary of Cellectis, based in Minnesota, is using an editing technology genome that preceded CRISPR-Cas9, called TALEN, for the wheat that produces less gluten, soy, whose oil olive oil resembles, and potatoes which, when fried, they do not contain the carcinogenic acrylamide. Calyxt not yet been associated with any of the seed companies.

DuPont is working with caribou Biosciences for corn and wheat CRISPR for drought tolerance and other traits. A spokeswoman said the company is “can not disclose” if the DuPont agreement allows the use of CRISPR unit to develop genes in crops.

caribou was co-founded by Jennifer Doudna CRISPR pioneer at the University of California, Berkeley, who has challenged CRISPR patents issued to Broad. Monsanto is not concerned.

“The IP [intellectual property] will be complicated for some time,” Adams said. “But everything will work itself.”

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