Australian Seed Company Tests AI Gene Editing in Wheat

04:33 June 7, 2024

Australian Seed Company Tests AI Gene Editing in Wheat

Agriculture companies are using new methods to change the genes of plants to produce more productive crops.

The process of gene-editing is gaining attention from people interested in agriculture. It makes changes to the existing genes of a plant, such as wheat. That is different from genetic modification, which produces what are known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. That process introduces completely new DNA to a plant’s genetic information.

Regulators and scientists believe gene-editing is less risky than genetic modification. They say it is closer to traditional methods of plant breeding. The process permits scientists to target several genes for editing.

A state-run company in Australia is preparing for a major trial of gene-edited wheat. Australian seed breeder InterGrain recently imported thousands of wheat seeds created by the American agricultural technology company Inari.

InterGrain chief Tress Walmsely said the wheat imports included hundreds of new genetic variations. Walmsley said the seeds are growing in a testing greenhouse in the state of Queensland. The plan is to create more seeds which can be planted across Australia in 2025.

"Our job is to work out which gene combination gives the best results. Our goal is at least 10 percent yield improvement. These seeds have the potential to achieve that," she said.

The company believes it could be selling seeds to Australian farmers starting in 2028.

Inari uses artificial intelligence (AI) to consider a huge number of possible edits and then uses the CRISPR gene-editing tool to change more than one gene at a time.

InterGrain and Inari believe the program could result in stronger wheat and bigger crops with a process 10 to 15 times faster than traditional plant breeding. Plant breeding happens when scientists mate two plants with desirable characteristics. It can take years for the best version of a plant to arrive.

Some gene-edited crops already exist. Most of them offer small nutritional improvements or have an increased ability to resist disease. The new wheat plants in Australia will have many of those qualities.

"We want to solve food security, climate change and farm profitability at the same time," said Inari’s chief Ponsi Trivisvavet.

Australia is working to ensure that it can export the gene-edited wheat. Some countries, such as the U.S. and Japan, have already said they believe gene-editing is not very different from plant breeding. Officials in those countries will be more likely to approve the Australian wheat.

The European Union is expected to make a similar decision and China approved a gene-edited wheat plant in May.

Inari said it is working with agriculture companies in the U.S. on a gene-edited soybean that will produce larger crop yields.

Many countries have already accepted genetically modified soybeans because they are mostly used to feed animals. Officials, however, have been slower to approve the modification of wheat because much of it is used in products made for humans.

I’m Dan Friedell.

Google Play VOA Learning English - Digdok