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Plant Scientist Expands Capabilities of Gene-editing Tool CRISPR

By Samantha Watters

A University of Maryland researcher has developed a new variant of the much-heralded gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9, an advance won its original discoverers a Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year and opened new paths in science.

The new variant, known as SpRY, developed by plant science Associate Professor Yiping Qi, essentially removes previous barriers controlling what can be targeted for gene editing, making it possible for the first time to target nearly any genomic sequence in plants for potential mutation with CRISPR’s “genetic scissors.”

The advance will have a major impact on translational research in the gene editing field, as well as on crop breeding as a whole, playing an important future role in food security, nutrition and safety, said Qi. He presented the research this month in the journal Nature Plants.

“With this new toolbox, we pretty much removed this restriction, and we can target almost anywhere in the plant genome,” he said. “This unleashes the full potential of CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing for plant genetics and crop improvement. Researchers will now be able to edit anywhere within their favorable genes, without questioning whether the sites are editable or not.”

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