Science-based policies can unlock Africa’s access to genome-edited crop varieties

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CGIAR-IITA head of plant biotechnology Leena Tripathi has made an impassioned plea for genome editing and its potential. She made the call in a recently published paper titled, CRISPR/Cas9-based genome editing of banana for disease resistance. Tripathi and her Kenya-based team are using gene editing to develop disease-resistant banana varieties.

“To boost the use of genome editing in crop improvement, we need to develop science-based guidelines, which will treat the GE varieties as similar to those generated through conventional breeding, particularly where no foreign gene is inserted,” said Tripathi. “It will enhance the adoption of disease-resistant GE varieties, hence contributing to food security, especially in Africa.”

She also said that scientists should use newer tools in breeding or risk a food security crisis. Plant pests and diseases account for 20–40% of yield loss and have, in some instances, wiped out entire crop varieties. For example, fusarium wilt (Race1) wiped out Gros Michel (a dessert banana variety), which was replaced by Cavendish that now accounts for 90% of all banana exports.

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