Seven things CRISPR can actually help accomplish in agriculture

CRISPR gene editing can do a number of things to assist breeding. There is a lot of hype around gene editing but in reality it can do only very measured things. Here, I describe the actual things CRISPR can do in agriculture.

Realistic things CRISPR gene editing can accomplish in agriculture.

Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation

Soybean symbiosis with Rhizobia

Legumes (beans) are capable of symbiotic nitrogen fixation. The bacteria turn atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia that the plant can use. Soybean Rhizobia inoculum can really make soybeans grow much bigger and healthier without adding fertilizer. The time-lapse video below shows how beneficial Rhizobia can be to soybean growth. All pots had identical soil. The only difference is the seeds that went into the pots on the right had Cel-Tech soybean inoculum on them. The Rhizobia form a symbiotic relationship with the soybean plants leading to nodule formation on the roots. These root nodules provide the plants with an abundant source of nitrogen.

Soybean growth details

  1. Soil (Promix BX) was autoclaved to kill residual bacteria.
  2. Seeds were planted into wet soil. Plants with Rhizobia were made by touching the seeds to Cel-Tech Inoculant prior to planting.
  3. Plants were grown in 16 hours of light per day at 23 degrees Celsius. Plants were watered as needed.
  4. Note: Extreme care is needed to prevent non-inoculated plants from “catching” the Rhizobia from the inoculated plants (ie. do not cross contaminate by splashing water or soil between the treatments). Soybeans are very susceptible to Rhizobia colonization.

Here are several other plant time-lapse videos.