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Beyond the Genome: Lessons Learned from Genetically Modified Crops in Africa and the Implications for Genome Editing

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Schnurr, Mathew A 
Kingiri, Ann 
Glover, Dominic 
Stone, Glenn Davis 


Genome editing — a plant-breeding technology that facilitates the manipulation of genetic traits within living organisms — has captured the imagination of scholars and professionals working on agricultural development in Africa. Echoing the arrival of genetically modified (GM) crops decades ago, genome editing is being heralded as a technology with the potential to revolutionize breeding based on enhanced precision, reduced cost and increased speed. In this article, we make two interventions. First, we identify the discursive continuity linking genome editing and the earlier technology of genetic modification. Second, we offer a suite of recommendations regarding how lessons learned from GM crops might be integrated into future breeding programmes focused on genome editing. Ultimately, we argue that donors, policy makers, and scientists should move beyond the genome towards systems-level thinking by: prioritizing the co-development of technologies with farmers, using plant material that is unencumbered by intellectual property restrictions and accessible to resource-poor farmers, and acknowledging that seeds are components of complex and dynamic agro-ecological production systems . If these lessons are not heeded, genome-editing projects are in danger of repeating mistakes of the past.



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Development and Change

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Erasmus+ programme of the European Union (Agreement number: 611150-EPP-1-2019-1-CA-EPPJMO-NETWORK - 2019-1887).