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ARTICLE: 3 Disease Resistant GMOs Could Address Climate Change and Save Farmers Billions

The following is an excerpt of a post by Nicholas Staropoli at the Genetic Literacy Project website about the benefits of 3 potential new GMOs. 

Treating disease is so vital to the future of agriculture that several scientists set up a non-profit called 2Blades to help advance work on plant pathogens and disease resistance. The group’s goal is to spur promising scientific work on plant disease resistance, move it out of the lab and into the market, so farmers can benefit. To this end, three recent studies supported by 2Blades in the journal Nature Biotechnology described different transgenic crops that had been engineered to resist one of three plant diseases.

  1. Asian soybean rust is a fungal infection that affects legumes and soybeans and is causing major yield losses around the world, but in particular in South America. Jack Westwood, external affairs director for the 2Blades Foundation said it costs Brazil $2 billion. Researchers at Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Viçosa found a gene from a pigeonpea that conferred resistance to the fungus and inserted it into the soybean. This represents the first time genes had been isolated for the soybean rust that worked in the soybean plant.
  2. Late potato blight resistance was addressed by researchers at the UK’s Sainsbury Laboratory. This team found a resistance gene in American black nightshade, a wild relative of the potato, and were able to successfully insert the resistance gene into the crop. While late blight resistant GM potatoes have already been approved in the U.S.—the second generation Innate potato—co-author Jonathan Jones notes the significance of his team’s study is the speed at which they were able to isolate the gene.
  3. Stem rust is a fungal infection that affects a variety of cereal crops—like wheat and barley—and is currently causing major yield losses in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Researchers working at the John Innes Centre found two genes that conferred resistance to the infection, in wild relatives, but the paper noted that simple crossing breeding between commercial and wild plants would be inefficient at inserting these genes–in part, because the breeding process can take up to 15 years for the genes to take hold, but also because it would only insert one gene. Inserting one gene leads to the evolution of resistance by the fungus at a much quicker rate. Instead the researchers inserted two for enhanced resistance.

With these diseases decimating farms around the world and climate change accelerating, we need these crops sooner rather than later.

To read the entire post, please visit the Genetic Literacy Project website.