A new plant modification technology could revolutionize seed production and reduce farmers’ reliance on large corporations. The technology aims to simplify the production of hybrid seeds currently produced through labor-intensive processes such as cross-pollination. Hybrid seeds are known for their robustness, resilience, and high yields.
Scientists have been inspired by plants that can produce viable seeds without pollination, known as apomixis. They have been working on genetically modifying crops to reproduce through apomixis, making hybrid offspring much easier to produce. While progress has been slow, researchers have identified genes responsible for apomixis and successfully incorporated them into certain crops, such as rice.
However, the challenge lies in avoiding the legal barriers associated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The goal is to develop apomictic varieties directly in important crops without genetically changing them. In 2019, researchers announced a breakthrough in creating rice plants capable of clonal reproduction through artificial apomixis.
Research groups worldwide are now working on developing apomictic varieties in crops such as sorghum, tomatoes, and forage crops. While the research on rice is the most advanced, progress is also being made in other crops. The technology is still several years away from commercial use, and scientists admit there is much to learn about the phenomenon and its practical implications.
Some skeptics raise concerns about accepting these “cloning” crops in the market, similar to the controversy surrounding GMOs. Countries already resistant to genetically modified food may also hesitate to import apomictic rice. However, optimists believe the technology can overcome resistance since it involves gene editing using methods like CRISPR, which differs from traditional GMO techniques.