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Monsanto Strikes Deal To Use CRISPR Gene-Editing Technology In Food

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Tom Hale

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Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

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Biotech and agrochemical big boy Monsanto has acquired a license to use CRISPR genome editing technology from Harvard and MIT's (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Broad Institute, where the technique was developed.

The deal is a non-exclusive deal, but it’s the first time a license has been issued for CRISPR's commercial use in agriculture and food. The sum of money has not been disclosed, nor has the potential application of the technology.

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CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing was developed in 2013 at the Broad Institute, allowing scientists to edit genes (essentially cut and paste small DNA sequences into the genome) with considerably more precision, speed, and effectiveness than ever before. It’s widely hailed as a groundbreaking technique that could have wide-reaching benefits in the realms of biomedical science. The video below provides a neat overview of the profound potential CRISPR gene editing holds.

“Genome-editing techniques present precise ways to dramatically improve the scale and discovery efficiency of new research that can improve human health and global agriculture,” Issi Rozen, Chief Business Officer of the Broad Institute, said in a statement. “We are encouraged to see these tools being used to help deliver responsible solutions to help farmers meet the demands of our growing population.”

The Broad Institute say they have gone to massive lengths to ensure the deal strictly stipulates “responsible use” of the genome-editing tool. For one, the technology can not be used to modify tobacco. They have also banned “gene drives", a way of creating a biased-inheritance for particular genes that could daisy-chain into the whole species population in nature.

Additionally, their contract does not allow them to use the technology to produce “sterile seeds”, which would essentially force farmers to buy new seeds year-on-year. Monsanto did actually develop these “Terminator seeds” in the nineties, although vowed never to commercialize the technology.

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Understandably, genetic technology in the hands of large corporations may set off alarm bells for many, although gene-editing is quickly becoming a necessary tool in a world with increasingly more hungry mouths to feeds. Scientifically speaking, most experts agree genetically modified organisms in themselves pose no threat to the wider environment, if used responsibly.

But as New Scientist points out, there’s little governmental regulation when it comes to the new world of CRISPR. What's more, a crop altered by CRISPR doesn't technically count as a GMO, leading Business Insider to say Monsanto may have "ended the war on GMOs".


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healthHealth and Medicine
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  • genetics,

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  • gene-edting,

  • CRISPR-Cas9

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