The legacy of GAIN4CROPS

An important outcome of GAIN4CROPS is the development of a roadmap: besides the results and data collected during the 5 years of the project on the sunflower, the plan is to leave a legacy for the future of innovative crops.  Indeed, GAIN4CROPS will bring together the biotechnological approach, which is mostly based on genome editing and transgenesis, with conventional breeding, which is mostly based on the crossings between species and the subsequent selection. The comparison of results obtained by the same people working on the same strain but with different methods should help stakeholders to make informed decisions.

For example, precision methods like CRISPR/CAS can be used to modify base pairs, make deletions, short insertions and other punctual changes that are also occurring in nature. In principle, the same ending product can be obtained via conventional breeding but in a much longer timescale – is there an advantage to using one method over the other? Can we achieve a product that is sustainable and beneficial for both the farmer and the consumers? GAIN4CROPS aims to answer these and other questions while developing an improved version of the sunflower.

CRISPR is giving us a rare opportunity to escape GMO definitions stuck in the 1980s and begin treating agriculture and food as the complex systems they are. 

Maywa Montenegro, Food systems researcher, UC Berkeley

Genetically modified lines, even if they are not entering the market, can help to select the desired plant variation to be obtained, thus guiding the breeding. The role of these techniques is still an open debate and it must be discussed together with the public – but a fruitful discussion needs to be supported with data from real-cases and awareness on the pros and cons of each method. Only when backed with clear data, the discussion on innovative breeding techniques might move forward.