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Agriculture First for CRISPR

Jennifer Doudna from the University of California, Berkeley, writes at the Financial Times that though genome editing has the potential to treat a number of genetic diseases, it may first affect people's lives by being applied to agricultural issues. The FT has named CRISPR researcher Doudna one of its Masters of Science 2018.

According to Doudna, genome editing could address drought, pest, and nutrition challenges facing agriculture, particularly in light of climate change. For instance, it could be applied to cacao plants — which are needed to make chocolate — to render them less vulnerable to diseases. She notes that cacao plants in Ghana have been battling black pod disease, cacao swollen shoot virus has also been infecting crops in West Africa, and Witches' broom disease has been affecting South American cacao crops. Researchers at Berkeley, she adds, are working on using CRISPR-Cas9 approaches to develop cacao that is resistant to both viral and fungal infections.

She notes, though, that people have been wary of genetically modified crops. But, Doudna writes at FT that agricultural companies are working to better inform the public. "Gene editing technology could be part of the solution to feeding a growing population and responding to the threat of climate change," she says. "As the number of genome editing applications continue to grow, transparent communication with the public is no longer an afterthought, but a necessity."