The corn will probably be the first plant to market developed through the cutting-edge genome-editing technique called CRISPR-Cas. It seems like Dupont has learned from the plight of its rival Monsanto, which has spent millions battling the fallout from its own GMO crops.
DuPont Pioneer is developing a program to proactively neutralize skeptical consumers — and doing it years before the crops will even be available. The company recently began hosting CRISPR focus groups and launched a website on the technique, complete with animated videos.
“It’s more about social science than science,” said Neal Gutterson, the VP of research and development at DuPont Pioneer. “[It’s] ultimately about getting social license for this technology.”
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 40 percent of Americans believe GMOs are bad for their health. This assertion isn't supported by science, which has concluded that the genetically modified crops on the market are safe for consumption.
But with CRISPR — a breakthrough gene-editing tool — the field gets a chance at its first real do-over. Unlike conventional genetic modification, CRISPR works directly on the DNA of the plant or animal being bred. While GMOs, as we have traditionally known them, involve inserting target DNA from a different species, CRISPR can directly “edit” an organism’s DNA for a result that falls within the genetic diversity of that animal or plant, so nothing foreign is being inserted into the host DNA.
The U.S. Agriculture Department has indicatedthat it doesn't intend to regulate the CRISPR-edited corn because its creation doesn't involve any plant pests' genetic materials.
However, when it comes to human genome editing, consumers may still resist the technology and unpack their picket signs. DuPont Pioneer’s response is being proactive and pointing out that “[f]or GMOs, [it] waited until the product hit the market before there was a lot of communication.” Its approach is to create two-way engagement. We'll see if it works.