How CRISPR could help save crops from devastation caused by pests

E. F. Merchant,  MIT Technology Review,  2023.

Researchers are now looking to add cutting-edge technology to California’s anti-Pierce’s arsenal, by changing the genome of the glassy-winged sharpshooter so that it can no longer spread the bacterium. Such a solution is possible thanks to CRISPR gene-editing technology, which has made modifying the genes of any organism increasingly simple. The technique has been used in experiments in cancer immunotherapy, apple breeding, and—controversially—human embryos. Now a growing number of researchers are applying it to agricultural pests, aiming to control a range of insects that together destroy about 40% of global crop production each year. If successful, these efforts could reduce reliance on insecticides and provide an alternative to genetic modifications to crops. For now, these gene-edited insects are shut away in labs across the globe, but that is poised to change. This year, a US company expects to start greenhouse tests in conjunction with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) of fruit-damaging insects made sterile using CRISPR. At the same time, scientists at government and private institutions are beginning to learn more about pest genetics and to make edits in more species.

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