Jennifer Doudna, one of the co-inventors of CRISPR, thinks she knows which application for the powerful gene-editing tool will be the first to affect the mainstream — and it has nothing to do with curing diseases or creating designer babies.
"I think in the next five years the most profound thing we'll see in terms of CRISPR's effects on people's everyday lives will be in the agricultural sector," Doudna told Business Insider — and those CRISPR'd crops have the potential to help alleviate problems ranging from hunger to obesity.
Let's get this out of the way first: Gene-edited crops are very different from the controversial genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
While genetic modification involves mixing and matching genes from different organisms — splicing DNA from a pesticide-resistant bacteria into soybean seeds, for example — gene editing involves making changes to an organism's genome that could happen through a natural mutation.
The distinction between the two is so profound that the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in March 2018 it wouldn't subject gene-edited crops to any additional regulation — a far more hands-off approach than it takes with GMOs.
We've already seen several examples of researchers using CRISPR to give crops beneficial traits — they've edited tomato plants to ensure a higher crop yield, mushrooms to prevent browning, and soybeans to prevent the production of trans fats.
Those three examples alone illustrate CRISPR's potential to give us more food that lasts longer and is healthier than what we currently have — and if Doudna is right, we could see those super-charged foods and others make their way onto our dinner plates very soon.
More on gene-edited food: The First Gene-Edited Food Has Reached US Restaurants