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Genome editing is capturing the collective imagination of scientists.
Research suggests that scientists may one day be able to treat incurable and fatal genetic diseases, modify human immune cells to kill certain types of cancer, and even stop the spread of malaria—a disease which still kills over 600,000 people each year - all through a scientific process known as genome editing. The promise genome editing holds to drive advancements in agriculture is just as inspiring.
Building a better blueprint
At Bayer, we believe that solving farmers’ ever increasing and complex problems, ensuring food security and preserving our planet’s natural resources will not be achievable without innovation in agriculture, including the use of new techniques such as genome-editing.
In agriculture, genome editing typically looks to improve a beneficial trait or to deactivate an undesirable trait within a plant to increase yield, improve resilience to increasingly extreme weather conditions or reduce the need for inputs such as pesticides or fungicides, for example.
For years, “genome editing” was done through traditional breeding methods which selected plants based on their desirable characteristics and how they react in the environment. Scientists worked at the speed of the crop’s growth cycle to produce new varieties over a decade or more. But with an ever-increasing understanding of genetics and the discovery of genome editing tools like CRISPR, we can now “fine-tune” a plant’s own genetic make-up to create, more quickly, precisely and predictably desired traits and therefore a better crop.
Many changes introduced by genome editing are comparable to changes that are naturally present by the millions in a plant’s DNA all the time. While small, these changes can have significant impact enabling scientists to:
- Improve resilience to increasingly extreme weather conditions, including drought
- Increase yield
- Resist existing and emerging disease and pests thus reducing inputs (e.g., pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers)
- Respond to changing consumer demands and preferences by increasing shelf-life, nutritional value or improving flavor and appearance
- Adapt to new agronomic systems
This technology, therefore, has the potential to solve some of the ever increasing and complex challenges faced by farmers, consumers and the planet.
How is Bayer using Gene Editing?
We are exploring the application of genome editing in the development of seed and microbial products to both accelerate and expand the range of solutions and alleviate the global pressures that are putting both food security and the future of our planet at risk. Bayer’s R&D focus areas for genome editing include improvements to plant architecture (or plant body itself), improved yield, quality and disease resistance, centered on our row crop portfolio.
Short corn growing next to traditional corn in the Marana, Arizona greenhouse.
One of our most exciting concepts is Short Stature Corn. which grows 30 to 40 percent shorter than traditional hybrids but with comparable yield per corn ear. We are exploring Short Stature Corn through multiple technology approaches including traditional breeding, biotechnology and genome editing. Utilizing multiple technologies will allow us to create the highest quality crop and bring this innovation into the broadest possible geographies and environments.
Bayer owns a 65 percent majority ownership of CoverCress, Inc. CoverCress™ is a low-input winter oilseed cover crop which has been developed using genome editing to convert pennycress into a commodity crop by improving its oil quality and feed value while also allowing the plant to serve as a winter cover crop between corn harvest and soybean planting. CoverCress™ offers the benefits of a traditional cover crop such as suppressing weeds, mitigating soil erosion and reducing water and nutrient loss. It also shows the potential to sequester carbon in the soil. As a high-protein animal feed and source for renewable biofuel production it provides a new revenue stream farmers and is therefore - uniquely - a ‘cash cover crop’.
Collaboration: It's in our DNA
Genome editing is one area which exemplifies Bayer’s commitment to open innovation and collaborative partnerships that combine expertise to accelerate the discovery and development of agricultural solutions. In the genome editing space alone, we've established forward-facing relationships with Pairwise, CoverCress, Joyn Bio, Pivot Bio and multiple tool developers to harness collective know-how and intellectual property for the benefit of farmers and society.