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From Haustorium 85: CRISPR-edited crops break new ground in Africa. Scientists in the global south use the popular technique to protect local crops against local threats

Molecular biologist Steven Runo once thought that his team would make history as the first to plant gene-edited seeds in African soil. The competition turned out to be stiffer than he’d anticipated. A research group working on maize ‘beat us by two or three months’, says Runo, who works at Kenyatta University in Nairobi and whose gene-editing project focuses on sorghum. ‘But that’s good — African countries will see that this is actually possible.’
The friendly rivalry is a sign of progress. Researchers have long hoped that the relative ease and low cost of CRISPR gene-editing systems would make it possible for scientists in low- and middle-income countries to produce crops with traits tailored to the needs of local farmers — rather than relying on seeds developed in foreign countries. Now scientists are overseeing at least a dozen efforts to develop such gene-edited crops.
Among those projects is Runo’s effort to engineer sorghum to be resistant to Striga hermonthica, a troublesome species of a parasitic plant known as witchweed. Field trials of the new variety are scheduled for later this year, Runo said at the Plant and Animal Genome Conference in San Diego, California, on 16 January. ‘It’s not as easy as people make it out to be to do gene editing, but it is pretty accessible,’ says Kevin Pixley, a research director at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Texcoco, Mexico. ‘Runo is a perfect example of that.’

.For further reading see Haustorium 85