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Genome editing contributes towards developing safe and sustainable food systems

Cows eating food.
Currently, the main feed source used for ruminant livestock production is forage grasses. Photo by: Priidu Saart

Climate change affects agriculture and food production. Thanks to the studies of the Tallinn University of Technology research group led by Dr. Cecilia Sarmiento We can count on better and more resilient plants to help ensure food safety and sustainability.

Due to an increase in the consumption of food and feed and to meet global food security needs for the rapidly growing human population, there is a necessity to obtain high-yielding crops that can adapt to future climate changes. Currently, the main feed source used for ruminant livestock production is forage grasses. In temperate climate zones, perennial grasses grown for feed are widely distributed and tend to suffer under unfavourable environmental conditions.

Genome editing has been shown to be an effective tool for the development of abiotic stress resistant plants. The highly versatile CRISPR-Cas system enables increasingly complex modifications in genomes while maintaining precision and low off-target frequency mutations.

Tallinn University of Technology’s “Plant-Pathogen Interactions and Plant Genetics Research Group” participates in the EEA-RESEARCH project “Improving adaptability and resilience of perennial ryegrass for safe and sustainable food systems through CRISPR-Cas9 technology (EditGrass4Food)”,  supported by European Economic Area and Norway Grants (EEA/Norway). Our partners are the University of Latvia, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and the Lithuanian Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry. Using CRISPR-based gene editing, the consortium will validate candidate genes related to freezing tolerance and biomass growth under water deficit.

In relation to this project, the research group from Tallinn University of Technology has coordinated and published a review article that offers a perspective view on the generation of grasses resilient to abiotic stresses (doi: 10.3389/fpls.2023.1127532). They have also organised this year a course on genome editing and a dissemination event in the framework of the EMP project entitled “An innovative platform for Estonia-Norway research-based teaching in bioinformatics and gene editing”. Dr. Cecilia Sarmiento, the leader of the research group, has been actively involved in the discussions on the regulation of CRISPR/Cas technology, both at the Ministry of Regional Affairs and Agriculture, as well as in the Parliament and the European Plant Science Organisation.

This article was originally published on the webpage of TalTech (Tallinn University of Technology).

Read more from our webpage about how breeding of drought-tolerant plants reduces food shortages!

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