Written by: Peter Schott of Myriad Mobile

The idea of modifying genetics is not a new one. It has, in fact, been around for over 30,000 years! It all started with the Corgi. Well, not the breed we now know and love as Corgis but their ancestors. In ancient China, wild wolves would join together with groups of humans as scavengers. These wolves were domesticated through selective breeding, leading to our modern-day furry friends. And memes. Lots of memes.

A short 25,000 years later plant genetics began to emerge. Modern foods including corn, broccoli, bananas, and apples are here today thanks to this work.


What we now know as “GMO technology” began in the early 1970s. This technology allows scientists to transfer genes from one species to another, introducing traits that would have previously been impossible to achieve. While controversial, there’s no question of the impact GMO technology has on the agriculture industry and the world.

GMO technology continues to evolve. CRISPR-Cas9 is a new technology that will change agricultural and the world. It’s a fundamental change for genetic engineering. Where previous technology modified genes through the introduction of other genes (transgenic), CRISPR-Cas9 modifies the genetics directly.

Adam Spelhaug, Agronomy Lead for Peterson Farms Seed is optimistic about the impact CRISPR-Cas9 will have on the industry.

“…I think this kind of technology will help advance some new technologies to be added to our crops faster. It’s a cleaner way of breeding…You get the desired trait and not the genes you didn’t want. Additional herbicide resistance, insect resistance, disease resistance and possibly drought tolerance are all possibilities with this technology.”

How does it work?

Put simply, CRISPR-Cas9 uses bacterial technology to insert short RNA molecules into a specific DNA sequence. This article is a great summary of the process including visuals.

Image Source: https://flic.kr/p/Ja54yu

What does the future hold?

Right now the world doesn’t quite know what to do with this technology. It’s not a traditional “GMO” technology. Thus many of the concerns and restrictions currently in place may not apply. Right now the European Union is wrestling with how to classify this technology.

CRISPR-Cas9 has many other uses and applications outside of agriculture. In the future, you will see advances in health care (such as cancer research). It will allow scientists to discover genetic causes for diseases and create treatments that specifically target them. This McKinsey report is probably one of the most exciting summary interviews of CRISPR-Cas9 and the possibilities:

Manasi Ratnaparkhe is an NDSU graduate working on advanced CRISPR-Cas9 research in Germany. In her current research, she is “using the CRISPR method to delete some of the cancer-promoting genes in-vitro and in-vivo to check the consequences of specific cancers like Paediatric Medulloblastomas and Gliomas.”

Manasi is excited about the future of CRISPR! She said that “CRISPR holds immense future possibilities from targeting cancer via immunotherapy (T-Cell enhancement), treating viruses like HIV to helping in the plant industry to generate seedless fruits or plants surviving harsh climatic conditions.”

Aldevron is leading the world in advancing biological science through custom development/manufacturing services. They produce plasmid DNA, proteins, enzymes, antibodies and more to researchers globally. Tom Foti, Vice-President & General Manager says that “Gene editing is rapidly changing the therapeutic approach to precision medicine. Cures to diseases that have eluded researchers for years now seem more possibly and the sheer mass behind this movement will undoubtedly provide for some breakthroughs in the coming years. Aldevron is working with some of the top researchers in the world in this space and we continue to partner with them to advance their research and clinical programs by manufacturing pDNA, enzymes, and novel antibodies.”

There is no doubt that CRISPR-Cas9 will change the face of agriculture, food production, and health care. I imagine a future where a farmer will be able to request a specific breed of a plant whose traits are matched to his farm’s soil and water conditions. Other emerging research is leading to crops who have the potential to be drought tolerant or take advantage of heavy rain, adapting itself to changing conditions throughout the year.

Tune in next time to hear more about Unmanned Aerial Systems. Find out why drones are making big data even larger for agriculture, some practical applications of the technology happening here in Fargo, and where this technology will take us in the future!

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