Ghana Scientist Tries Gene Editing To Create Healthier Sweet Potatoes
The Cornell Alliance for Science seeks to build “a significant international alliance of partners” to “correct misinformation and counter conspiracy theories” slowing progress on climate change, synthetic biology, agricultural innovations, and other issues.

Slashdot reader wooloohoo shares their article about research on Ghana’s first gene-edited crop — a high-yielding sweet potato with increased beta carotone content.

“For sweet potatoes, we want to look at how we can use the CRISPR-Cas9 system to increase beta carotene,” said Samuel Acheampong of the University of Cape Coast’s Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, who has been working on the project for the past year. “Beta carotene is a big deal for us because as animals, when we eat beta carotene, our cells are able to convert them into vitamin A.”

The World Health Organization estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 children in developing nations go blind every year as a result of vitamin A deficiency, making it the world’s leading preventable cause of childhood blindness. Some 50 percent of them die within a year of losing their sight. Respiratory illnesses and infectious and diarrheal diseases in children also have been linked to vitamin A deficiency. Acheampong is using CRISPR-Cas9 to knock out the genes responsible for the production of an enzyme in the sweet potato that converts beta carotene into other products. This will leave higher beta carotene content in the crop, which when consumed by humans will allow them to produce vitamin A. Sweet potato is a very popular vegetable in Ghana, making it ideal for a biofortification effort of this kind…

Additionally, Acheampong is researching how to increase the size of the crop’s storage roots. “I’m looking at a set of genes which affects the transport of sugars in plants. So I’m trying to use the CRISPR genome editing to knock out some sets of genes so that there will be more flow of sugars in the crop, which will definitely lead to increase in the yield….”

He estimates it will take him up to five years to complete his research before any conversation can begin around putting the product in the hands of farmers. “Getting it to the market may take a long time, depending on regulations, etc.,” he said.

In another article, The Alliance for Science cites a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing who argues “it is unlikely that genome editing-based next generation breeding will completely displace conventional approaches; only when combined with other technologies, such as high-throughput phenotyping, genomic selection and speed breeding, can we guarantee the widespread implementation of genome editing in agriculture.”

“This multidisciplinary approach will advance plant breeding to help secure a second Green Revolution in order to meet the increasing food demands of a rapidly growing global population under ever-changing climate conditions.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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