UH secures $149K to use CRISPR technology for food preservation
The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa has received $149,000 from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to explore how CRISPR technology could expand the shelf life of Hawaiʻi's food imports.
Zhi-an "Rock" Du, an assistant professor from the Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, is spearheading the project funding to provide new workshops and courses to UH students about the uses of CRISPR.
The gene editing technology CRISPR is notoriously known to the public for altering DNA to prevent and treat human diseases. However, Du wants to explore how CRISPR technology can have an impact on Hawaiʻi's agriculture.
"It's like a Google map. It helped us to find the target genes in the very complicated chromosome. So with this technology, we can easily modify the target genes, we can do a lot of editing, and we can improve the products," Du said.
Unlike genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that introduce the DNA of another species into a crop, Du said CRISPR technology splices together genes from the same species.
"It's getting really popular and you will see many products available using CRISPR technology. That's why we think this is urgent for our students to learn and practice this technology," Du said.
UH introduced its first class on genome editing tech during its spring 2022 semester.
Now, the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources will host its first CRISPR workshop this summer. The week-long program is open to all students in the UH System.
"That includes both lecture and hands-on activities," said graduate student Laura Higa. "When they actually get to do hands-on benchwork, they'll be carrying out full-length gene editing experience on microalgae and corn cells."
CRISPR is a growing tool in the field of agricultural science. It could potentially help Hawaiʻi grow crops that are more resilient to climate change, increasing their shelf life.
"As [CRISPR] is developing, we're also learning with it. They don't need to have a lot of science background to join this CRISPR workshop. We'll teach the basics and it's so new," said graduate student Julia Yuson.
More information on CRISPR workshops can be found on the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources website.