Published On: Sun, May 6th, 2018

Chinese Scientists Move Toward Genetic 'Editing' of Crops, Sparking US Concerns

China is aiming to be the world leader in editing plant genes — and the move has U.S. farmers, agriculture industry and academics worried, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

Seed and chemical giant Syngenta AG, run by state-owned China National Chemical Corp., is building a Beijing hub for developing cutting-edge gene-editing technologies like CRISPR-Cas9, which enable new ways to alter DNA, the Journal reported.

The company also intends to piggyback off research being pursued by Chinese universities and access a broader talent pool than rivals like Monsanto and DowDuPont compete for in the United States.

“The government is very supportive of this technology in China,” Erik Fyrwald, Syngenta’s chief executive, told the Journal, adding the company is pouring millions into the gene editing venture. “It’s just natural for us to build it up there for China, and for the world.”

But U.S. interests are concerned the forefront of agricultural science could be moving from the Farm Belt to China, and may eventually increase U.S. reliance on Chinese tech, and potentially access to cutting-edge methods, the Journal reported.

and other emerging technologies, such as Talen, offer crop scientists and seed companies ways to manipulate plant genes in ways that are faster and cheaper than biotech practices that have resulted in genetically engineered crops in more than 90 percent of U.S. corn and soybean fields.

Gene-editing techniques also let scientists make changes without adding any foreign DNA, potentially achieving similar effects with looser regulation, though skeptics say the new technology could pose risks to human health and the environment.

“My biggest concern is the fact that the U.S. is backing off public funding for research, while the Chinese are moving forward,” Bob Stallman, a Texas rice and cattle producer who previously headed the American Farm Bureau Federation, told the Journal.

China has typically lagged behind other countries’ agricultural research, but “in CRISPR, they could leapfrog,” Even Rogers Pay, agricultural analyst for Beijing-based research and advisory firm China Policy, told the Journal.

A Syngenta spokesman said the company aims to globally market any crops developed in Beijing.

And to develop gene-edited crop seeds it hopes to sell, Syngenta has licensed CRISPR-Cas9 from the Broad Institute, a partnership including Harvard University and the MIT that holds a patent on the gene-editing technology.

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Chinese Scientists Move Toward Genetic 'Editing' of Crops, Sparking US Concerns