BetterSeeds' CRISPR-Based Technology: The Key to Agricultural Resilience and Sustainability

By David Thompson

May 02, 2024 09:47 PM EDT

The woman sat his hand and caught a Siem on dry soil and looked at the sky.(jcomp on Freepik) (Credit: Getty Image)

In the movie, "Interstellar," Earth is dying. Tech is abundant in the future, such as self-driving tractors, autonomic combines, and crop-monitoring drones. However, there are still a number of challenges facing the planet, including a global environmental crisis. There is a lack of arable land, and dust storms are a common occurrence. The crops that do manage to grow in the harsh conditions are killed by a fungus. Science fiction? If you read the daily news, you know these challenges are more reality than make-believe.

In the movie, an astronaut/farmer and a team of scientists set off into space to find a solution to these challenges, ultimately, to find an inhabitable planet, though a genetic solution making the crops resistant to the fungus and the weather could have prevented the crisis. Here in the real world, it's BetterSeeds that is creating solutions to combat these vast challenges facing modern agriculture today. Founders Ido Margalit and Dr. Tal Sherman are making CRISPR gene editing technologies more accessible for breeders, as well as developing enhanced seeds that are resilient to climate change, pests, and other agricultural enemies while enhancing yields and improving nutritional content. 

Margalit explains that the genome editing that they are doing at BetterSeeds differs greatly from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), where foreign genetic material is inserted into an organism. While the goal of GMOs was to combat many of the same challenges as genome editing, the complications surrounding GMOs, including potential health and environmental risks, led to an increase in regulations, an extensive process for market approval, and public concern.  

BetterSeeds on the other hand utilizes CRISPR technology, which allows for the deletion or silencing of existing genes, such that without inserting any foreign genetic material. BetterSeeds' solutions increase the plant's ability to resist climate changes like drought, and decreases its susceptibility to pests while increasing yields and improving nutritional value. Likewise, BetterSeeds makes farming practices much more sustainable. 

Because BetterSeeds is silencing genes rather than inserting foreign genetic material into the plant, "there is nothing new for the regulatory authority to review," Margalit explains. Therefore, regulatory hoops are minimal. "We are just taking something out, removing an existing feature. We didn't put in anything new. So there's no environmental risk," notes Margalit. "There is no 'seeing' what can or will happen. There are no such issues or risks when you delete existing genes, so the approval process is safe, fast, and easy. We just applied for deregulated status with the USDA, in Israel, and soon in Brazil. We expect to be approved quickly, with ease and with little expense."

The benefits that BetterSeeds is bringing to the industry are vast. With their molecular CRISPR delivery technology, EDGE (Efficient Delivery of Gene Editing), they can overcome the limitations surrounding the use of CRISPR and express new traits in crops very quickly, within a few months, and then bring it to market shortly after. Margalit explains that everybody is starting to develop a sense of urgency around sustainable, climate-resilient crops. "They are already seeing a productivity drop in many of the cash crops that feed us. They see now that only traits integrated into crops using CRISPR will be able to provide the solution."

BetterSeeds' solutions are helping farmers with a number of issues as well as helping with sustainability on a much larger scale. "Crops utilizing our breakthrough traits are resilient to the vast changes in temperature as well as to the lack of water." He adds, "Water is becoming scarce. Also, water has become very expensive. If I can reduce the water intake of farmers by 70% because the crops they planted don't need as much water, I'm not only enabling the farmers' a solution in times of drought, but also saving them a lot of money, and also overall helping the planet because farmers aren't further depleting it of its precious resources. The same is true for temperatures, hot and cold. I can provide a trait so that when farmers experience a massive heat wave, they aren't as worried about their crops' performance due to temperature or rainfall."

BetterSeeds also develops additional unique traits that are resistant to certain diseases like the virus (ToBRFV) that has devastated tomato growers all over the world over the past couple of years, as well as other diseases that will continue to arise because of climate variations. "We are currently implementing a trait that enables full resistance to this virus. Climate change not only reduces yields because of the abiotic stress (abiotic means anything that is not related to a biological organism) but also a lot of diseases and pests that were not around and are now emerging."

Likewise, BetterSeeds' solutions address agriculture's responsibility for the contribution of carbon emissions. For example, BetterSeeds' heat tolerance trait promotes sustainability by addressing energy-intensive greenhouses that utilize a significant portion of energy, around 1.5% of the total energy used in Europe, for heating and cooling to grow their crops. "We are providing greenhouse growers a solution that allows them to operate with minimal expenses. And the derivative of that is we are saving millions of tons of Greenhouse gas emissions because we've reduced the energy consumption for growing crops in greenhouses."

Also, in Europe, about 20% of desalinated water goes towards agriculture. By using BetterSeeds solutions, farmers can reduce their reliance on desalinated water for irrigation because their crops would require less water overall. Margalit notes, "with a trait that reduces the amount of energy used, to desalinate water and for ventilation and cooling by just 20%, imagine the amount of potential carbon emissions reduced throughout the world?" Impactful. 

The agricultural challenges depicted in "Interstellar" are increasingly becoming our reality; fortunately, BetterSeeds offers a powerful, real-world solution that enables the full utilization and potential of CRISPR gene editing technology to develop crops that can handle climate change, resist viruses and pests and that are much more sustainable. The world doesn't need to send astronauts and researchers to find an inhabitable planet; instead, it just needs BetterSeeds. Margalit explains, "Genetics is the key to everything."

Explore BetterSeeds genomic editing solutions today!

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