1:12 min Read

Covid-19 reaffirmed just how quicklyand decisively—human pathogens can strike. Fortunately, at the same time, cutting-edge mRNA gene-based technology allowed vaccines targeting that specific virus to be developed and rolled out with record speed.

There's an important lesson to be gleaned here—one that extends well beyond this health crisis.  

The very genomic toolkit that has proven effective in mitigating the toll of Covid-19 can prove equally so against the myriad viruses, blights and insect swarms that routinely cause "mini-pandemics" in essential food crops worldwide.

Name any number of agricultural sub-sectors—wheat, coffee, chocolate, bananas, soybeans, strawberries, pineapple. Producers within them can point to diseases and pests that routinely swoop down to destroy billions of dollars of agricultural output, wipe out growers, and cause major disruptions in food supplies around the globe.

With pests and diseases quickly evolving, conventional countermeasures simply aren't enough on their own. And often go-to approaches—like weeding and fertilizing—are expensive, labor intensive and ultimately don't resolve the underlying issues driving pests and crop diseases.

Of course, crop scientists have long been breeding for disease resistance, hardiness, and higher output. But traditional crop cycle experimentation often progresses slowly and can prove too blunt of an approach.   

Gene editing changes everything. If properly mobilized and adequately funded, the method can be just as successful against agricultural diseases as it is now against human coronaviruses.

Research that once took years can now be completed in mere weeks. Specific gene editing techniques, like CRISPR-Cas9, can precisely target against specific threats and quickly have an impact in growers' crop fields around the world.

CRISPR-Cas9 brings a new tool to protect and enhance its essential food supplies by effectively controlling existing pathogens, responding to new outbreaks and—perhaps most critically—identifying and preemptively countering agricultural threats.

Plant pandemics have finally met their match.

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