Last week the U.S. corporation Monsanto, which holds a leading position in the global market of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), reached a licensing agreement with the Broad Institute, Cambridge, USA, on the commercial use of the innovative genome-editing technology CRISPR/Cas9 for agriculture applications. This news has led some experts to believe that Monsanto will now completely switch from producing ‘traditional’ GMOs to ‘genetically edited’ organisms, which are supposedly ‘safer and practically identical’ to their natural alternatives.
Let’s have a closer look at this technology which makes GMO supporters feel so enthusiastic and has been positioned by them as the universal panacea solving all of mankind’s problems. We will also delve deeper into some of the darker aspects of CRISPR/Cas9; the points that biotechnology lobbyists prefer not to discuss.
Do You Trust Monsanto to ‘Play God’ with CRISPR?
In a press release dated 22 September 2016 Monsanto stated that technology CRISPR/Cas9 would be used as complementary to the methods of genetic modification that are already being used. Firstly, there is of course no mention of stopping the use of traditional GMOs, as this is not the plan. Secondly, the licensing agreement that Monsanto signed with the Broad Institute is certainly not the first one they have made for CRISPR technology. Earlier this year the company entered into similar licensing agreements to use gene-editing technologies developed by other research organizations, namely, the Nomad Bioscience GmbH, Germany, and TargetGene Biotechnologies Ltd. , Israel.
It is obvious that Monsanto is not suddenly changing its strategy to concentrate on CRISPR. Instead, we are now being shown that Monsanto is consistently following a huge new target.
Regarding Monsanto’s latest CRISPR deal, the Broad Institute does clarify that there are several important restrictions in the agreement with Monsanto including;
RESTRICTION 1: prohibits Monsanto to use CRISPR/Cas9 for creating sterile seeds (also known as suicide seeds or terminator seeds). By preventing plants from producing fertile seeds, Monsanto forces farmers to purchase seed from the company each year.