Advanced breeding technology has promising future in agriculture

For decades, growers have relied on the products they utilize on the farm to perform at the highest level and consumers, in turn, have relied on an abundance of safe and affordable food.

With new breeding technology called CRISPR-Cas, DuPont Pioneer will soon make both of those outcomes the standard for years to come.

Pioneer is establishing a CRISPR-Cas enabled advanced breeding platform to develop seed products for greater environmental resiliency with characteristics like disease resistance and drought tolerance, in addition to advancing the development of improved hybrid systems. The technology has applicability for all Pioneer crops of interest, but the initial effort is being made with waxy corn.

“Yellow dent corn that we grow across the U.S. has two types of starches in it, amylose and amylopectin,” said Morrie Bryant, Senior Marketing Manager with DuPont Pioneer. “Waxy corn is all amylopectin and this specialty starch is used in a variety of products like yogurts, puddings, pie fillings, gravies, sauces and all types of food products. It gives them a congealing characteristic that helps those foods stay on your spoon.”

Amylopetin also has industrial uses as it helps produce adhesives, corrugated cardboard products and the shiny paper used to make the ads in the Sunday paper.

“Waxy corn a relatively small market, making up about 500,000 acres of productions a year across the U.S.,” Bryant said. “But if you think about it, waxy corn goes everywhere through the value chain.”

The waxy gene has been known to science for almost 100 years and DuPont Pioneer has been developing waxy corn hybrids since the 1980s, making that commodity an ideal starting point for the company to begin their CRISPR-Cas testing.

“What CRISPR-Cas has allowed us to do is to go into the wax corn plant and snip out the gene that allows it to make amylose so it only makes amylopectin,” Bryant said. “We can now do this quicker and we can make it more exact and I think it will also allow us to get into a wider background of our materials. We think that CRISPR-Cas technology has an application is every crop that we work with.”

DuPont Pioneer’s corn team is looking at using CRISPR-Cas to help increase disease resistance and soybean and canola teams are also building their wish lists for utilizing this new technology.

A common misconception about CRISPR-Cas is that it is the same as creating Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). A plant developed with CRISPR-Cas genome editing technology is different from a GMO because genome editing uses the native genetic sequences and characteristics available within the specific plant.

“When you take a piece of genetic material from one specie and bringing it over as a transgene into another genome, that is a GMO,” Bryant said. “What CRISPR-Cas has done for us is to go into the existing corn genome and make a deletion. There was no introduction of foreign DNA into the genome. That has been reviewed by USDA and they agree that our new waxy corn hybrid is not a GMO.”

Creating new products with CRISPR-Cas technology that will end up in the food chain is something that DuPont Pioneer is not taking lightly.

“One of the four core values of our company is safety,” Bryant said. “Nothing goes to market before it goes through all of the safety and regulatory protocols. None of our new waxy corn is in the bin today, but we hope it will be in the next 5 years. We are doing some testing now and being very deliberate with this technology,” Bryant said. “CRISPR-Cas, GMOs and other technologies that we don’t even know about will come along and we will use them to help feed the world. That’s the mission we have had since we were founded by Henry Wallace in 1926 when he came out with some technology called hybrid corn.”

AUDIO: The Ohio Ag Net’s Ty Higgins visits with DuPont Pioneer’s Morrie Bryant about CRISPR-Cas technology.

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