September 30, 2014

New technique alters plants to take advantage of good traits

ue An improved technique for breeding new varieties of crop plants may help researchers improve them without introducing genes from other organisms. Iowa State University agronomy professor Kan Wang says “genomic editing” is a method of slightly altering a plant’s own genetics to reduce disease susceptibility, for example.

The method is known by the acronym TALEN. “Essentially, this TALEN technology will allow us to precisely, at a specific site of genome or plant genome, to make changes that will bring new beneficial traits to farmers and consumers,” Wang said. The technique doesn’t carry the same concerns as gene transformation or genetic modification, according to Wang.

“I don’t believe it should be regulated as a GMO because there are no extra pieces going in,” Wang said. I.S.U. researchers have conducted tests showing rice can become more disease resistance when the genome is edited. Scientists are exploring whether similar results will be found in corn, soybeans, wheat and sorghum.

Wang made her comments on Iowa Public Radio’s Talk of Iowa program.