CRISPR-Cas9 is a gene editing technique capable of modifying the genome or the complex of genes of a cell. It works like a molecular scissor that can cut and stitch DNA very precisely, eliminating harmful sequences or replacing them and correcting the mutations present.
To date, this technique has been used in various fields ranging from biology to agriculture and indeed, a group of scientists used the CRISPR system to be able to increase rice production in some areas of Africa, subject to adverse weather conditions.
The study carried out by some researchers from the University of Milan together with the University of Montpellier stems from the need to stabilize these agricultural resources, in order to meet the needs of the population.
Scientists have considered some species of African rice capable of adapting to environmental and soil conditions with good resistance to parasites, drought and nutrient deficiency, but nevertheless not very stable as regards the crushing and yield of the seeds.
With CRISPR-Cas9, mutations were introduced in the rice chosen for the study that generated shorter plants to decrease stem folding, following the action of winds and rains and a better yield of the seeds.
The result obtained is a clear demonstration of how cultivation techniques can be improved and productivity increased, but this is not the only goal that science has set itself. The new target is malnutrition, but what does CRISPR have to do with this?
Unlike in developed countries where the diet is very varied and there is the possibility of buying different foods, in Africa, as in other underdeveloped countries, a bowl of rice is all you can eat, however, rice alone is not enough to introduce the nutrients the body needs. And this is where CRISPR comes in again, come?
Through this system, scientists want to modify and enrich the nutritional properties of rice, producing the new "golden rice".
The first version of "golden rice" has already been obtained in the past by introducing the genes necessary for the production of beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A, with the help of a bacterium that acted as a vector, i.e. as a transfer vehicle.
Genes responsible for other traits could be inserted into the new generation golden rice, such as disease resistance or water stress tolerance, thanks to the gene editing technique. This time the novelty would also concern CRISPR because it would be used to add a function (gain of function) rather than eliminate it (loss of function).
However, it will take some time to see the new version of the "golden rice", at least until the whole community is able to accept the application of these advanced genetic engineering techniques also in the field of’ agriculture. [GM]