A research team at the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has learned how to use CRISPR technology to manipulate several genes at once.
Until now the technology has been used to edit one gene at a time, either knocking it out or turning it off or on.
The researchers say this will advance plant breeding to a new level.
“The possibilities are really limitless in terms of the traits that can be combined,” said Yiping Qi, an associate professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture and co-author of the study.
He imagined a blight spreading through wheat fields and scientists being able to remove a gene from the wheat that makes it susceptible to the blight and simultaneously turning on genes that shorten the plant’s life cycle and increase seed production.
They could rapidly produce blight-resistant wheat before the disease had the chance to do too much damage, Qi said.