Recently MIT and Harvard have made news for their invention of the CRISPR gene editing system. Regarded as the powerful gene editing system yet it gives scientists an option to easily modify the DNA of organism with relative ease. CRISPR may be used to edit zebrafish, cows, and even humans. Recently the farming giant Monsanto was given a nonexclusive licenses to use CRISPR for the purposes of genome editing. This isn’t the first time the company has used gene editing technology to innovate. Monsanto, a company so successful German pharmaceutical company Bayer has purchased it for 66 billion, has a long history of producing genetically modified organisms and distributing them worldwide. However, CRISPR would give Monsanto the ability to provide produce with a much higher level of genetic fitness than is currently seen.
Currently, Monsanto sees no way to use the technology as it sees fit. The licensing agreement between Monsanto and the universities responsible for CRISPR prevents Monsanto from using the technology for “gene driving”. This highly controversial practice would involve “pushing” a genetic characteristic through a wild population in hopes of making the trait exceptionally common. While gene driving has the potential to cause amazing changes in the nature of many organisms, there are fears the technology could potentially spread undesirable traits and cause some species to go extinct. The agreement signed goes even further preventing Monsanto from using “terminator” seeds(seeds that cause the second generation of a plant to become sterile) or GURT(genetic use restriction technology), which often used to produce terminator seeds. There are also restrictions on what plants Monsanto may use CRISPR on. Using the technology to genetically modify tobacco plants is strictly forbidden.
Even with the restrictions, Monsanto has the ability to use the technology to create some truly groundbreaking innovations in farming. Crops designed to withstand drought and pests could change the way we farm. The potential for CRISPR and Monsanto is only limited by their imagination.