Researchers at the University of Chicago touted a breakthrough in gene editing of vegetables to improve crop yields this week. The results of the research were published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. By using a protein to selectively erase certain parts of a plant’s RNA, they were able to produce 50% improvements in crop yields of rice and potatoes.
What the researchers did was similar in some ways to how coronavirus operates. The upper respiratory virus, deadly in 0.0018% of cases according to the United States Centers for Disease Control, works by rewriting human RNA with its own set of instructions to the infected cell. Instead of making more healthy cell parts, the cell starts making more coronaviruses.
In the case of the potatoes and rice, researchers did something more like the opposite. They edited the plant’s RNA to produce more healthy, edible plant matter. Growing 50% more potatoes or rice could mean less agricultural sprawl and a lower environmental impact. It could also mean feeding more people with the same amount of land in use today.