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Just like us, crops get sick from a variety of viruses and pathogens. This can cause yield losses and a reduction in quality.
David Cook is an assistant professor of plant pathology at Kansas State University, and on a quest to develop technology that would provide greater resistance in common farm crops.
"We can hopefully give the plant new tools to recognize that a virus is present, and then eliminate it. So, sort of a new security system for plants," says Cook. "And with the same technology we think we can also increase plant performance, so maybe increased stress tolerance, maybe increase the nutritional content in a specific crop."
Most viruses are very clever. Once they encounter resistance, they’re smart enough to find a way around it, constantly changing to survive.
Cook says he’s using gene editing technology called CRISPR to give plants an extra way to fight.
"We want to add a new layer that will allow the plant to detect that intruder and then be able to respond, basically killing that little cell that gets infected," he says. "So we want to be able to kill just that little cell that’s infected, leaving the rest of the plant hopefully healthy and stopping the spread of that virus."
If all goes well, Cook says his short-term goal is to introduce the technology into soybeans in about three-years. However, the resulting varieties would be classified as genetically modified organisms, so they will have to go through regulatory scrutiny before they would be available to farmers.
Read more about Cook's quest for virus-resistant plant technology