Captivating Lecture at ACS on Genomic Editing

By Prof. VanBuren of Michingan State University

Tomatoes that can solve Vitamin D deficiency, plants that resurrect after weeks or years without water, and plant-based vaccines are just a few of the many impressive examples of gene editing projects underway that Prof. VanBuren talked about during his captivating lecture on New Genomic Techniques at the American College of Sofia on 29th September for ACS and guest students and faculty. The lecture took place in Whitaker Auditorium and was organized in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria and AgroBioInstitute.

Prof. VanBuren came all the way from Michigan State University to talk to future problem solvers about the challenges humankind is facing and possible solutions through new genomic techniques. And he did get their undivided attention for the full 60 minutes of his lecture, which was followed by a Q&A session that could have gone on for another hour had attending students not had to go back to the rest of their classes.

Here are some of the most important messages of Prof. VanBuren’s lecture. As the world population is projected to reach 10 billion by 2050 and the food demand will increase, while at the same time cultivable land and fresh water supplies are limited resources, feeding a growing global population in a sustainable way will require increasing agricultural productivity and efficiency, reducing food waste, and promoting more plant-based diets. Which is where gene editing, whereby DNA is inserted, deleted, modified or replaced in an organism's genome to create a desired trait, comes to rescue.

Interestingly, gene editing is not as modern as we may think. Humans have been changing organism’s genomes for thousands of years through animal and plant domestication, a slow process that involves many changes, including bad ones, over thousands of generations. Gene editing allows us to speed up this process and make precise changes to improve crops. But it is slow, laborious, and expensive. It is currently quite challenging to make multiple edits in one plant. Advances in robotics, synthetic biology, phenotyping, and molecular biology will enable high-throughput genome editing to create the next generation of climate resilient plants. Very exciting, according to Prof. VanBuren.

We left better informed, with a better understanding of the benefits and risks of and this way encouraged about gene editing and its potentially life-improving role in our future that is, well, here.