Genetically engineered (GE) seeds were first introduced to agriculture in 1994. In the U.S. today, over 90 percent of corn, cotton, soybean, and sugar beet crops are grown with GE seeds.
Using the recently developed technique known as CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), genetically engineering seeds is now faster and easier than ever before. CRISPR uses an enzyme called CAS-9 to cut DNA strands, allowing scientists to remove, reorganize, or insert genes in seed DNA with greater accuracy, in less time, and at a lower cost.
Like traditional GE methods, CRISPR can be used to reduce a crop’s susceptibility to diseases and pests. Additionally, CRISPR can be used to enhance a crop’s yield, extreme weather tolerance, shelf-life, nutritional value, and quality of taste. In theory, CRISPR-modified crops could require less nitrogen and water to grow, and the final food product could be free from allergens.
As of 2018, USDA does not plan to regulate CRISPR-modified plants if the new genes come from the same species or related plant species.
Taking a different tack, EU authorities decided that seeds created via CRISPR should be classified as GE.
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