The world is looking towards Gene Editing Technology (GET) to provide agricultural solutions. In Africa, scientists are undertaking this research in support of food security on the continent in the face of climate change challenges. Genome editing, (also called gene editing), is a group of technologies enabling scientists to change an organism’s DNA. These technologies allow genetic material to be added, removed or altered at particular locations in the genome. Several approaches to genome editing have been successfully developed across the globe.
Breakthrough for Africa
The work of Dr Leena Tripathi, is focussing on the efficiency and precision of gene editing to restore staples African farmers prefer such as banana and sorghum. With the assistance of two male colleagues, she hopes that this would lead to better and sustainable incomes for African farmers. Dr Tripathi is director of Eastern Africa for the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture.
During a recent webinar, she gave information on the project, explaining how this breakthrough research will be able to address problems with plant diseases and climate resiliency, not only in Kenya, but across Africa.
Dr Tripathi and her colleagues are using gene editing tools to develop disease-resistant banana varieties, addressing banana and fusarium bacterial and wilt, and the banana streak virus. Bananas are a very important staple food in Eastern Africa with its consumption higher than any cereal crop. These crops suffer large losses and many production constraints with pathogens and pests co-existing.
Traditional plant breeding technologies had not been effective in solving these problems as it is a lengthy process. With gene editing, scientists can effect small, targeted changes in the banana genome to make it resistant to diseases, without altering the appearance or taste.
Witchweed (striga weed)
Another pest affecting sorghum in Africa is the striga weed, of which there are 40 types. Also known as witchweed, it threatens several other cereal crops such as maize and rice. This weed is present in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and can cause almost 100% harvest loss. It is estimated that USD7 billion is lost to striga around the globe each year. Traditional control measures – crop rotation, intercropping and hand weeding – are ineffective.
The collaborative research is enabling editing of the low germination stimulant, 1 (LGS1) gene in sorghum. This will potentially increase yield and nutrition for millions of people in Africa. The crops will be sold at the same prices as conventional crops.
The National Biosafety Authority at the Kenyatta University in the country has a regulatory framework to monitor this and to determine whether the technology will be regulated, based on presence of foreign DNA.
This webinar was hosted by another bio-tech regulatory expert in Kenya, Doris Wangari.