Make Way for Life-Saving Science on Your Farm [opinion]

Illustration of CRISPR-Cas9
Cas9 seeks out certain sections of DNA chains to “clip out” undesirable traits, and in some cases, add in new desirable attributes. Can this technology save crops from deadly pests and diseases? Scientists are seeking to find out.
Illustration courtesy of UC Berkeley

There aren’t many topics that stir the pot more among the masses than genetic engineering (GE). Opinions on either side of the table can become quite heated, especially when talking about employing the modern science in food crops for the purpose of enhancing their ability to increase yield and fight off disease more effectively. The debate can become just as embroiled even when it comes to genetically altering pests that can take food off tables or ones that can take human lives.

Case in point, researchers at Cornell University’s Agricultural Experiment Station are eager to pull the trigger on a unique experiment involving a controlled release of genetically engineered, “self-limiting” diamondback moth (DBM) in the research center’s cabbage field. As of this posting, they were still awaiting the official go-ahead from USDA.

Like Moths to a Flame

Can a fight-fire-with-fire approach put an end to an age-old DBM plague? Growers can only hope and wait for now. The miniature menace continues to be a perennial problem for cole crop growers around the globe.

The novel experiment could present a solution that would eliminate growing concern over pesticide resistance incidence for the destructive DBM, offering growers a biological control alternative.

For the last two years, Cornell scientists have been working with British-based biotech company Oxitec and testing its self-limiting gene capabilities on DBM in a protected environment. Now, the next phase of the study is ready to take off — literally — out in the open. Of course, this aspect is what has local environmental groups in Upstate New York nervous about the possible spread of the sterile DBM and potential impacts beyond the demonstration plot. But is there cause for worry?

Genetically Speaking

According to Oxitec, its technology is based on advanced genetics that involve the insertion of a self-limiting gene into mosquitoes. “The gene is passed onto the insect’s offspring, so when male Oxitec engineered mosquitoes are released into the wild and mate with wild females, their offspring inherit the self-limiting trait. The resulting offspring will die before reaching adulthood, and the local mosquito population will decline.”

Sounds like a pretty slick solution to suppress deadly disease-carrying bloodsuckers (fine by me). In fact, Oxitec is currently working on a field trial with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District to release a GE mosquito in an effort to quell populations, thus limiting the hosts of illnesses such as Zika virus, dengue fever, and West Nile.

I find it encouraging the same biotechnology that could potentially save lots of lives is being considered to save lots of crops, too. This is not science fiction, folks. Researchers also are vetting RNAi innovation to save citrus and even newer gene-editing technology (CRISPR/Cas9) for possible control of spotted wing drosophila and yes, DBM.

While nature always finds a way to adapt, science continues to find other ways to cope. Lucky for us, that’s the case. Open minds are needed to open doors. There should be no debating that.

Topics: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Make Way for Life-Saving Science on Your Farm [opinion]

  1. Because of positive results, Oxitec has been contracted to expand its mosquito programs in Brazil and Cayman. They’re seeing the most political resistance in the US. The usual anti-GMO activists appear to be working mostly behind the scenes to stir up opposition. No doubt those folks are worried that the success of any GMO could hurt their fear-mongering-for-dollars business model. The actual health and financial well-being of people who could benefit from Oxitec’s products are not their concern.

    Disclosure: I’m a retired molecular biologist with no ties to Oxitec other than owning a small amount of stock in their parent company (a high-risk bet not recommended for novice investors).

Citrus Stories
Fallen citrus fruit in wake of Irma
Citrus
October 12, 2017
Irma Rains Down on Florida Citrus Crop Estimate
Initial USDA forecast reflects the fruits of what was left behind by monster storm. Read More
A water-logged citrus grove in Southwest Florida following Irma
Citrus
October 10, 2017
Impressions from Irma Indelible on the Florida Farmscape [Slideshow]
Striking images from the field reveal not only the storm’s destructive nature, but also paths to recovery and reconstruction. Read More
Citrus
October 9, 2017
(We Won’t Back Down … ) Stand Your Ground for Agriculture
You don’t have to be a super hero, rock star, or award-winning scientist to aid farming. You can help by supporting professionalism in fields. Read More
Greenhouse structure damage at SWFREC in Immokalee
Citrus
October 6, 2017
Complications Persist as Florida Growers Pick up After Irma
Ground zero perspective reveals how citrus and vegetable producers are facing different, daunting challenges in wake of destructive storm. Read More
Growers boot up drone technology on the farm
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Are You a Precision Grower?
Gathering, analysis, and application still seems to be the best basic definition of precision agriculture. Read More
Greenhouse structures flattened by Irma at C&B Farms
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Hurricane Irma Toll on Florida Farming in the Billions
Preliminary damage estimates confirm storm’s ferocity. Read More
A sea of citrus fruit floating in floodwater after Irma
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Tips to Help Hurricane-Stressed Citrus Trees
Cleaning up damage and small doses of nutrition the fastest path to helping blocks bounce back. Read More
Citrus
October 4, 2017
Goodlatte Officially Introduces the Ag Guestworker Act
On Monday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced his Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2017 bill, which would replace H-2A with an H-2C program. Rep. Goodlatte introduced the bill to the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. Read More
honeybees
Citrus
October 2, 2017
$10 Million for Honeybee Health
National Honey Board, Project Apis.m investing in pollinator research. Read More
Swamped citrus in Southwest Florida
Citrus
October 2, 2017
Perseverance a Priority for Florida Farmers Post-Irma
Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam heartened by the strides being made by growers around the state as they begin to recover from the hurricane. Read More
cash money in hand
Citrus
October 2, 2017
$18 Million in Grants Available for Value-Added Producers
Farmers in need of planning or working capital funds to move their ideas forward encouraged to check out program. Read More
Asian citrus psyllid closeup
Insect & Disease Update
September 28, 2017
Attention to Citrus Psyllid Control Critical After Hurricane Irma
Flushing trees will give HLB vector perfect breeding ground. Read More
Field of carinata
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Research on Jet Fuel Cover Crop Ready for Takeoff
Scientists seeking to find if carinata can sustainably feed future renewable energy demands. Read More
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Agriculture Offers Rare Opportunity for Bipartisan Action
A running theme from agricultural-friendly politicians speaking at the United Fresh Produce Association's Washington Conference was the need for a bipartisan approach to agriculture and immigration. Read More
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Will H-2A Become H-2C? Find Out What the New Bill Proposes
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R VA) is re-introducing a bill that aims to replace H-2A. Here are some of the ways it will differ from the current program. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
October 18, 2017
How to Keep Track of Climate Change
Use cool tools to find out how your production methods may change in the future, how much your area is at risk, and how to limit your own impact on the climate. Read More
Citrus
October 17, 2017
USDA Issues Disaster Declaration for Hur…
Operators in designated counties eligible for emergency assistance. Read More
Citrus
October 16, 2017
Wrath of Hurricane Irma’s Rainfall…
Report says storm dropped enough gallons of water on Florida’s St. Johns River Water Management District to swamp 6.7 million football fields. Read More
Citrus
October 12, 2017
Irma Rains Down on Florida Citrus Crop E…
Initial USDA forecast reflects the fruits of what was left behind by monster storm. Read More
Citrus
October 10, 2017
Impressions from Irma Indelible on the F…
Striking images from the field reveal not only the storm’s destructive nature, but also paths to recovery and reconstruction. Read More
Citrus
October 9, 2017
(We Won’t Back Down … ) Stan…
You don’t have to be a super hero, rock star, or award-winning scientist to aid farming. You can help by supporting professionalism in fields. Read More
Citrus
October 6, 2017
Complications Persist as Florida Growers…
Ground zero perspective reveals how citrus and vegetable producers are facing different, daunting challenges in wake of destructive storm. Read More
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Are You a Precision Grower?
Gathering, analysis, and application still seems to be the best basic definition of precision agriculture. Read More
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Hurricane Irma Toll on Florida Farming i…
Preliminary damage estimates confirm storm’s ferocity. Read More
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Tips to Help Hurricane-Stressed Citrus T…
Cleaning up damage and small doses of nutrition the fastest path to helping blocks bounce back. Read More
Citrus
October 4, 2017
Goodlatte Officially Introduces the Ag G…
On Monday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced his Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2017 bill, which would replace H-2A with an H-2C program. Rep. Goodlatte introduced the bill to the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. Read More
Citrus
October 2, 2017
$10 Million for Honeybee Health
National Honey Board, Project Apis.m investing in pollinator research. Read More
Citrus
October 2, 2017
Perseverance a Priority for Florida Farm…
Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam heartened by the strides being made by growers around the state as they begin to recover from the hurricane. Read More
Citrus
October 2, 2017
$18 Million in Grants Available for Valu…
Farmers in need of planning or working capital funds to move their ideas forward encouraged to check out program. Read More
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Research on Jet Fuel Cover Crop Ready fo…
Scientists seeking to find if carinata can sustainably feed future renewable energy demands. Read More
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Agriculture Offers Rare Opportunity for …
A running theme from agricultural-friendly politicians speaking at the United Fresh Produce Association's Washington Conference was the need for a bipartisan approach to agriculture and immigration. Read More
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Will H-2A Become H-2C? Find Out What the…
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R VA) is re-introducing a bill that aims to replace H-2A. Here are some of the ways it will differ from the current program. Read More
Citrus
September 26, 2017
Rise of Agricultural Automation Drives I…
The International Forum of Agricultural Robots aims to provide links to farming’s future. Read More