Home pagePress monitoringTo feed its 1.4 billion, China bets big on genome editing...

To feed its 1.4 billion, China bets big on genome editing of crops

Date: 31.7.2019 

Chinese leaders “want to strategically invest in genome editing, and [by that] I mean, catch up,” says Zhang Bei, who heads a team of 50 scientists at the Syngenta Beijing Innovation Center and works closely with a sister R&D facility in Durham. “And they also want to be the global leader as well in this area.”

Kredit: Stefen Chow / Syngenta Beijing Innovation Center.China may one day need CRISPR-modified plants to provide enough food for its massive population, notes rice researcher Li Jiayang, former president of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing and vice minister of agriculture. “We have to feed 1.4 billion people with very limited natural resources,” says Li, who works at the same CAS campus as Gao, the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology. “We want to get the highest yield of production with the least input on the land from fertilizers and pesticides, and breed supervarieties that are pest and disease resistant as well as drought and salt tolerant. All this means we need to find the key genes and to work with them.”

Before the harvest of that effort can move from labs to farms and tables, however, China needs to resolve how it will regulate CRISPR-engineered crops – a divisive issue in many countries.

In a 2018 decision that rocked big agriculture, a European court ruled that such crops are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that need strict regulation. In contrast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) exempts genome-edited plants from regulations covering GMOs as long as they were produced not by transferring DNA from other species, but by inducing mutations that could have occurred naturally or through conventional breeding.

Chinese consumers are wary of GM food. The country strictly limits the import of GM crops, and the only GM food it grows are papayas for domestic consumption. But for CRISPR, many plant researchers around the world, Lippman included, assume China will follow in the United States’s footsteps.

 


 

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