CRISPR is a tool that makes it easier than ever to edit the “letters” of the genetic code. In this episode, we talk with a plant scientist about how this advance could help agriculture deal with climate change.
Much of the hype around the genome editing tool known as CRISPR focuses on its potential to cure genetic diseases. But our bodies need more than a healthy genome to survive and thrive—they also need food, and that’s where we may see CRISPR’s earliest effects on our lives. “When I think about where we are likely to see the biggest impacts in the shortest amount of time, I really think it’s going to be in agriculture,” CRISPR co-discoverer Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley told WIRED last week.
In this episode of Base Pairs, we talk with plant scientist and Associate Professor Zach Lippman about the threats that climate change poses to agriculture, and how CRISPR could help overcome them. He tells us how a genetic tweak that his team made in tomatoes allows more flexibility in where we can grow crops, and why the new tool was critical in this achievement. We also talk about where CRISPR fits into the conversation on GMOs.
Extras for Episode 10:
Scientists on Lippman’s team are also farmers for part of the year. They go out to experimental fields each growing season to plant tomatoes and other crops they’re working on in the lab.
Lippman and his team spend much of their time each spring and summer tending to their plants in fields and greenhouses.
Using CRISPR, Lippman and his team edited the genome of tomato plants to yield tomatoes that flower and fruit weeks earlier. In our “CRISPR vs. Climate Change” episode, we talk with him more about how precisely editing the genes of crop plants could help us prepare for the effects of a warming climate.
The new film “Food Evolution,” narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, shows why climate change can’t be left out of the discussion about genetic modification of our food.