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Biotech crop debate sparks over targeted mutation

Invoking random crop mutations is a time-tested technology. Throughout the past century, breeders have mutated the cells of food staples like wheat; the reaped improvements were an essential part of the Green Revolution. Targeted mutation, also known as genome editing, changes this dynamic. Over the past several years, a clutch of small biotech firms has developed tools that allow scientists to induce errors in DNA repair -- such mistakes are the source of mutation -- with great specificity. These tools selectively insert or silence genes in crop species. Combined, they will knock years off development time, scientists say. The technology is poised to upend the debate on modified crops, forcing regulators and the public to face a simple question: What does "genetically engineered" mean?

A new technology — targeted mutation — is poised to upend the debate on modified crops, forcing regulators and the public to face a simple question: What does "genetically engineered" mean?

Invoking random crop mutations is a time-tested technology. Throughout the past century, breeders have mutated the cells of food staples like wheat; the reaped improvements were an essential part of the Green Revolution.

Targeted mutation, also known as genome editing, changes this dynamic. Over the past several years, a clutch of small biotech firms has developed tools that allow scientists to induce errors in DNA repair -- such mistakes are the source of mutation -- with great specificity. These tools selectively insert or silence genes in crop species. Combined, they will knock years off development time, scientists say.

To find out more on targeted mutation and genome editing, please see this New York Times article.

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