Cloned rice has been achieved thanks to CRISPR, and that may pave the way to revolutionize agriculture.

Finding CRISPR has undoubtedly been one of the most important scientific advances in recent years, enabling gene editing in an almost unprecedented way. Something that has its implications at the level of the human species, but that can also be of help in agriculture with rice cloning, a potential alternative to improve the cultivation of this cereal.

What is usually done in rice cultivation is hybridization, so that the desired varieties are combined to try to obtain crops with the most desirable characteristics (that is, with sexual reproduction). The disadvantage in this process is that not all seeds contain these advantageous genes, so cloning becomes an interesting option for improve crop yields and lower costs.

Cloned rice has been achieved thanks to CRISPR, and that may pave the way to revolutionize agriculture

Sex for rice is over (for a good cause)

Genetic selection has traditionally been used as a system for obtaining more convenient species: cows with better dairy yields, chickens that look like sansones if we compare them to those of a few years ago, redder and meatier tomatoes or watermelons with fewer seeds. Obviously it has worked, but obtaining those “improved” species is left by the way hybrids that do not always manifest the desired qualities and it also happens with rice grains.

There is the option of creating transgenic products, but what these researchers have thought has gone further: what if we try to clone rice, like someone who clones sheep, so that farmers do not have to search each time for an interesting hybrid seed and try lucky? Or what is the same, what if we can finally leave behind 10,000 years of sexual reproduction of rice to start with asexual?

Cloned rice has been achieved thanks to CRISPR, and that may pave the way to revolutionize agriculture

This is the idea presented in the work of Venkasetan Sundaresan (from the Davis University of California) and his team of scientists, who have opted for asexual reproduction (that is, there is no need for two individuals and two sexes) to obtain of rice. Something that if it works without problems means that farmers can plant and replant seeds of the same variety without losing valuable features desired.

What they have done is develop seeds that cloned autonomouslyIn other words, its seeds contain the same genetic information. They did it with the Kitaake variety, so when they discovered that a sperm gene called BB1 (Baby Boom 1) triggered the development of the seed embryo, they inserted a promoter (something like a start switch) so that the female version of this gene would do the same.

Cloned rice has been achieved thanks to CRISPR, and that may pave the way to revolutionize agriculture

And where does CRISPR intervene? In the deactivation of meiosis, the process by which gametes (eggs and sperm) are obtained, which are cells with half the genetic information necessary to develop a viable living being. It was the team of Raphael Mercier, a plant geneticist and co-author of the study, who came up with this solution that allows the plant to reproduce asexually.

The possible signs of a change, but it remains to be done

With this, it would not be necessary for there to be a male individual that contributes the part that activates the development of a seed embryo, maintaining the genetic load and reaching the development of said embryo without the need for an external genetic input and switch. Of course, at the moment they are still in the beginning of the development of this possible technique and among other improvements is that of achieving a higher cloning success rate.

Cloned rice has been achieved thanks to CRISPR, and that may pave the way to revolutionize agriculture

The idea is that the characteristics of good hybrids can be maintained generation after generation, sowing after sowing, as if we photocopied the strain. Something that according to Brian Staskawicz, scientific director of agriculture at the Innovative Genomics Institute, could save costs for farmers with respect to obtaining hybrid seeds.

In order to continue working on this, the interesting thing is that the genes that participate in this technique have been found in other plants, so perhaps asexual reproduction can be attempted with species such as corn, wheat or tomato. Of course, we will have to see the parallel development of legislation regarding work with CRISPR and the tools that allow us to “play at reproduction” or eliminate viruses in live animals, which does not always end up favoring the development of research such as in the case of Europe.

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