What is Targeted Gene Editing?

The principle of targeted gene editing using nucleases is simple: create a sequence-specific break in your gene-of-interest and allow the cell’s natural repair machinery to create a stable change into the genome. The resulting changes can help scientists better understand gene function or, as it relates to product development, precisely alter certain genes to remove harmful proteins or confer disease tolerance. Targeted gene editing enables the genes of a species to be modified in order to change certain attributes, to rectify an error, or to add a new trait of physiological or economic interest. Plant breeders have been crossbreeding plants and selecting for advantageous traits for thousands of years. The aim of targeted gene editing is to simply speed up that process by incorporating changes into elite germplasm known from wild ancestors or from other species altogether, to produce the best possible attributes much faster and in a less expensive timeframe. This approach is much more predictable, more reliable, and more effective than currently existing techniques.


There are three possible strategies to do this:

  • Targeted Gene Insertion is used to add a new sequence at a pre-determined location of the genome (ie a transgene). For example, a gene can be targeted into a locus known to be permissive for gene expression or a trait can be inserted directly next to an existing trait (stack), to expedite the joint breeding of various traits.
  • Targeted Gene Repair can be used to modify one or more nucleotides within a target sequence. These changes can result in 1) modification of the coding sequence of a gene to alter protein function or 2) modification of promoter elements (ie enhancers/suppressor) to alter expression patterns. This approach can be used to improve the quality of food products, create herbicide tolerance or to modify genes to confer disease tolerance.
  • Targeted Gene Knockout is used to create small deletions at a target site to permanently and stably eliminate expression of a gene. This approach can be used to remove an enzyme or protein product from a plant cell, which can shift a metabolic pathway towards a healthier end-product (such as sugar or oil content) or remove a potential allergen.