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Gene editing -- Government policy, United States. Department of Agriculture -- Research, Gene editing -- Applications to agriculture -- Management


The Science Advisory Council was established in FY2016 as a subcommittee of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics (NAREEE) Advisory Board by the Chief Scientist as a result of recommendations from the 2012 report on Agricultural Preparedness by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The Council's charge is to provide advice and guidance, on a scientific basis, on the overall strength, practicality, and direction of agricultural research, including emerging technology and scientific issues and report any findings publicly to the NAREEE Advisory Board.

The USDA Chief Scientist first asked the Council to examine rigor and reproducibility in USDA science. The second was to review the technology of Gene Editing in view of its possible use by USDA to address challenges.

The term gene editing or genome editing is a generally considered a type of genetic engineering in which DNA is inserted, deleted or replaced in the genome of a living organism using engineered nucleases, sometimes referred to using a common description of molecular scissors. The nucleases used in this function create breaks in the target locations in the genome. These breaks are repaired leading to specific edits. There are currently a series of engineered nucleases being used to affect these edits. One of the most commonly known is the CRISPR-Cas system.

In traditional breeding, a desired phenotype is observed and then if the approach is available, the expense warrants it and the tools are available; the genetic basis for the phenotype is studied and elucidated. In the use of a gene editing approach, a reverse of traditional breeding is done in that a sequence of DNA is modified and a phenotypic response is monitored. In this sense of study, gene editing holds great promise to understand better the role of single genes and their possible effect on a product and to modify them for improved human value.

Gene editing is a tool to be used by molecular researchers, hopefully in consultations with breeders, to enhance the search for improved products and solutions. It joins many other tools used by USDA scientists such as selective breeding, cross breeding, marker assisted selection / genomic selection, etc. to improve agricultural production, sustainability and health.

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