When plants or pests develop traits we want—or don’t want—wouldn’t it be ideal to isolate that trait to duplicate or replace it? The Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) can make exact exchanges to the DNA of most organisms.

Research conducted at the University of California, San Diego shows this new genome-editing mechanism might allow scientists to control pesticide-resistant pests. By introducing a genetic mutation into a few pests in a population, scientists have found a way to help that mutation quickly spread throughout the entire population. 

“CRISPR alleles spread and become fixed in a population on the order of tens of generations,” explains Rob Unckless, postdoctoral research fellow in the departments of molecular biology and genetics at Cornell University. Left to natural selection, beneficial genes could take hundreds of generations to develop. 

Additional benefits of CRISPR technology allow scientists to focus on individual genes to enhance accuracy and control outcomes. Traditional breeding leaves room for error or can impact multiple, even unknown, genes in the process. CRISPR should allow for faster and safer discoveries.

Continued research will show how selecting specific genes in pesticide-resistant insects will possibly make the insect susceptible to pesticides or through unknown control methods. “There is so much we don’t know, but it’s also promising,” Unckless says.

CRISPR technology can also be used in crop genetics. DuPont and Caribou Biosciences, a leading developer in CRISPR, recently announced they’re forming a strategic alliance. By working together, DuPont will have exclusive access to CRISPR-Cas (CRISPR associated proteins) technology to use in major row crops, and Caribou will have access to DuPont patent portfolios.

Through this partnership, DuPont will launch their first commercial product stemming from CRISPR-Cas technology, and it will involve waxy corn hybrids. Waxy corn is found on about half a million acres in the U.S., and farmers can gain a premium for the product. On the downside, waxy corn typically yields less than traditional field corn hybrids. But DuPont intends to lessen the yield gap with this technology. The company expects the new product will be available to U.S. farmers within the next five years.

Since CRISPR technology doesn’t require users to add foreign genes, it could make the path to commercialization faster. For example, white button mushrooms have been altered to browning and are for sale at some grocery stores now.