To adapt to environmental challenges and feed the world, farmers constantly create new crop and livestock varieties. They’ve used selective breeding to do this for many years. In this process, farmers first identify plant or animal varieties displaying useful traits. Then, they mate these varieties together. With a little bit of luck, mating produces new offspring with the best mixes of traits. Such traits might include bigger fruit, drought tolerance, pest resistance, easier cultivation, and more!

For example, selective breeding created specialized cow breeds. Some are very good at producing milk. Others are superb at producing meat.

Selective breeding is effective. Yet, it takes a long time. With traditional breeding, farmers often have to assess success in adult offspring. In addition, some desirable traits have high chances of coming with undesirable traits.

For example, if you were breeding a milk cow to thrive in hot weather, it might be very difficult. Most of the time, the cow might inherit heat tolerance with low milk production. Thus it would take many matings and a lot of time to breed cows that produce a lot of milk and tolerate heat.

Molecular technologies and CRISPR diagnostics speed up the selective breeding process. They make it easier to identify crops and livestock with desired traits.

Crop variety #1 contains a gene (green) that enables it to grow large leaves. However, it can only grow in mild temperatures. Crop variety #2 contains a gene (orange) that enables it to grow at high temperatures. However, it has small leaves. After breeding these varieties, farmers can use CRISPR diagnostics (magnifying glass) to identify seeds containing the genes for both traits (large leaves and heat tolerance). Farmers can then selectively plant these seeds. The result is new crop variety #3 which contains both genes. It has large leaves and can grow at high temperatures.

Molecular and genomics technologies in crop and livestock breeding

Molecular and genomics technologies identify DNA sequences associated with beneficial traits. Thus, farmers can look for these DNA sequences in their crops and livestock. Later they can breed only plants and animals with the these sequences. Starting with the right DNA increases the chances of producing the best offspring.

Molecular and genomics technologies also make it easier to identify the best offspring. Instead of inspecting adults, farmers can inspect DNA in juveniles. If the juveniles inherit DNA encoding the desired traits, breeding was likely successful. If not, farmers can restart the mating process right away. They can quickly get back on a trajectory toward success.

CRISPR diagnostics in agriculture

Farmers can use CRISPR diagnostics to inspect the DNA in their crops and livestock. Indeed, it’s possible to quickly program CRISPR diagnostics to detect DNA sequences encoding useful traits. CRISPR diagnostics are also cheaper and faster than more traditional genomics technologies like full genome sequencing. Thus, they should be more accessible to farmers in resource-limited regions.

The ability to quickly breed new crops and livestock grows more important everyday. Improved crops and livestock may better withstand climate change. They may also make it easier to feed the world’s growing population. We hope CRISPR diagnostics will enable farmers everywhere to apply modern genetics to breeding. We look forward to helping researchers and farmers solve important agricultural problems using CRISPR diagnostics!

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