How CRISPR Can Help Combat the Effects of Climate Change

Anne Freier
9 min readAug 16, 2019

New Zealand’s Royal Society Te Apārangi, this week, concluded that gene editing regulations in the country are in need of an overhaul. Last reviewed in 2001, the experts agreed that outdated regulations would not meet existing challenges in healthcare, the environment and primary industries.

The New Zealand Forest Owners Association was quick to back the call, citing the spread of wilding conifers, an invasive tree weed species, in the country.

“If the fertility was switched off in these trees through a gene edit, then not only would the spread of wildings from new plantations be curtailed, but […] the tree would divert more energy into growing wood,” said Peter Weir, president of the Forest Owners Association. “That adds to the carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere and helps combat climate change.”

It’s hard to keep up with the emerging science of gene editing. The technology has recently attracted a fair amount of criticism for its application to alter humans. Designer babies and mutant diseases — ethical gridlocks are afoot.

But there’s mounting evidence that CRISPR-Cas, ZFNs and TALENs could help us cope with the challenges of a warming planet. And molecular scissor-wielding scientists are already making a difference in three core areas — food security, biofuels and conservation.

Durable crops for food security

Climate change poses a major threat to food security. Unpredictable weather patterns, rising CO2 concentrations, a spike in pests and pathogens spell death for many crops.

A study led by the University of Minnesota found that climate change was affecting yields for some of the world’s most important crops. Annual rice yields declined 0.3%; wheat harvests dropped 0.9%; yields in oil palm dove 13.4% whilst soybean harvests increased 3.5%. Food-insecure countries such as Africa suffered the heaviest crop losses.

“It’s a very tough problem and for many countries that are already not food secure, hunger could become a much larger issue,” Deepak Ray, lead author of the paper, said.

The warming climate may lead to plant pathogens (organisms such as fungi and bacteria causing diseases in plants)…

--

--

Anne Freier

Author of “Science of Breakup”. Preorder now: https://scienceofbreakup.com/buy.html MRes Biomedical Research & MSc Neuroscience Neuropsychology.