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Norway's first CRISPR food plant

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Photo: Siri Elise Dybdal.

Researchers at NIBIO have succeeded in creating Norway's first gene-edited food plants. The researchers used the CRISPR method to gene-edit strawberries to make them more resistant.

Researcher Tage Thorstensen and his team at NIBIO are the first in Norway to successfully use CRISPR technology to knock out susceptibility genes in wild strawberries. These are genes that make the plants more vulnerable to disease, particularly fungal disease.

CRISPR works kind of like "gene scissors" that can remove, insert or swap pieces of DNA as desired, in any type of living organism. It is hoped that the tool could help to solve challenges associated with food security, climate change and sustainability.

Thorstensen has used CRISPR in his work with lettuce and strawberries. He explains that the development of a specialist CRISPR tool for strawberries took time.

"In plants, you need special plant vectors in order to get the CRISPR molecules into the plant cells. We had to adapt these for strawberries, and then we had to get these CRISPR tools into the strawberry cells. This was the main bottleneck, since strawberries are a much more difficult plant to work with than other model plants used in research. But just before summer, we received confirmation that we had managed. That was a great moment, because it meant we could make a more accurate cut in the gene we wanted," says Thorstensen.

This is the first time they succeeded to edit the genome of the cells in the entire plant, and that the modification was inherited by the next generation.

"This is knowledge we can use on a larger scale, on more plant types, and that can benefit Norwegian farmers. Plants like these allow us to significantly reduce the use of sprayed chemicals," Thorstensen points out.

In this way, production can become more sustainable and profitable. And if the researchers succeed with strawberries, they may also succeed with potatoes, cereals and other plants.