Published: December 3, 2020

Category: GMO News, The Organic & Non-GMO Report Newsletter

S&W Seed Company has teamed with biotech company Calyxt (Minnesota) to use TALEN gene editing technology to create an alfalfa plant with improved digestibility—a trait attractive to beef and dairy producers.

S&W breeder David Mickelson calls the technology “precision breeding,” claiming the approach produces non-GMO varieties because it doesn’t involve insertion of foreign DNA but rather “cutting” DNA strands to delete or replace specific genes within the genome. In fact, the gene-edited alfalfa would not be certified as non-GMO by two leading certifiers, the Non-GMO Project and NSF.

Alfalfa trails only corn and soybeans in U.S. revenue. It has been genetically modified with the Roundup Ready trait (glyphosate resistant) and the HarvXtra trait that reduces lignin, indigestible to cows. This alfalfa feed boosts digestibility.

CRISPR and TALEN, the two main gene editing tools, are simple to use and produce quicker results than conventional breeding. Using TALEN, researchers made a small deletion in one of the alfalfa genes to make the lignin pathway nonfunctional, reducing lignin levels. The plants were then crossed to high-yielding, disease-resistant plants. While TALEN is hailed as precise and efficient, Nature magazine reports “chromosomal mayhem” when human embryonic cells are gene-edited.

Mickelson sees gene editing as attractive, because GMO breeding involves steep regulatory hurdles and lack of acceptance by export and local consumers wary of GMO technology. Gene-edited varieties are currently considered non-regulated by the USDA.

Source: Hay & Forage Grower

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