Climate change is rapidly descending upon the human species in manifestations of unpredictable weather phenomena, disruptions in the animal kingdom, economic upheaval and social chaos. The race to combat climate change has driven a collaborative effort by specialists in technology, science and even health. One of the unexpected heroes emerging from the field of science and medicine is CRISPR gene editing. The technology’s capacity to play an integral part in minimizing the negative impact of climate change has recently been noted.
One of the first frontiersmen to demonstrate how the Cas9 protein can be manipulated to reprogram DNA was Virginijus Šikšnys, PhD, professor, chief scientist, and head of the Department of Protein–DNA Interactions at the Vilnius University Institute of Biotechnology. His work in CRISPR gene editing resulted in his founding CasZyme in Lithuania, a company that is now almost entirely focused on tackling the agricultural issues of climate change through CRISPR gene editing.
A bit of background: CRISPR is an acronym that stands for clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. In layman’s terms, CRISPRs are stretches of DNA that include a protein enzyme dubbed Cas9. This particular enzyme acts like scissors, where it has the ability to cut through strands of DNA.
Briefly, certain bacteria can use Cas9 to protect an organism by cutting the DNA strands of viruses. The bacteria would then store a small bit of that DNA inside their own genome to fool future foreign invaders. The details, of course, are more complex, but this is how CRISPR technology works in a nutshell.
Climate change has arguably impacted the field of agriculture worse than other areas. Plants are facing radically altering climactic conditions throughout the world. A related problem is that of new plant diseases and pests. With CRISPR gene editing, plants can be helped along by being DINA-engineered to withstand extreme obstacles. They can be more resilient to drought, erratic temperatures and a vast assortment of infections. Specialists in the field of CRISPR gene editing are already working on the development of dedicated soil microbes in order to enhance nutritional composition while simultaneously altering gas absorption and emissions. This dual-purpose serves both the plant and means that some cultures of plant will give off less methane or absorb increased levels of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
It’s widely known that the transportation of food to fulfill rising demand throughout the world is one of the key causes of excessive carbon dioxide emissions. CRISPR gene editing can be used to increase plant yields, boost food nutritional content and prolong the shelf life of highly perishable fruits and vegetables. In this way, more nutritious and more varied foods can be produced closer to where people live, reducing the need for the transportation of food.
The lengthening of shelf life that’s possible with CRISPR gene editing can also help with the food waste problem. Each year, up to 45% of food gets wasted in households around the world. This organic waste produces billions of tons of CO2 emissions annually. Furthermore, if food preservation is achieved with CRISPR gene editing, this would reduce the need for the use of chemical food preservation ingredients that also consume high amounts of energy to produce.
The work that CasZyme is doing in the field of CRISPR technology is astounding and of the highest importance in the fight against climate change. CasZyme’s mission is to address the demands of its clients from many industries, including human treatments and diagnostics, as well as agriculture, the food industry, and industrial biotech enterprises. The CasZyme example demonstrates how the same molecular tools produced using CRISPR-Cas gene editing technology may be used to treat a variety of global challenges ranging from the most severe human diseases to climate change.