GENEInnovate (9MNOK, Norges forskningsråd)

Norwegian breeding companies focusing on cattle, pigs, salmon and plants offer genetic material (germ cells; sperm, eggs, and seeds) in a highly competitive, global market and are under constant pressure to develop new, innovative products demanded by growers, food manufacturers, and consumers. Traditional methods for breed/strain improvement are relatively slow and imprecise, and are constrained in that they can only build upon genetic variation already existing in the companies breeding core. Gene editing, exemplified by CRISPR, is a new technology that can precisely increase or decrease the frequency of existing genetic variation in a population, or introduce new variations affecting important production traits (e.g. disease resistance) that would be difficult to change using traditional methods. In this project, we will use gene-editing approaches to test the effects of specific genetic variants in cell culture and/or embryo studies with the ultimate goal being to establish a platform capable of producing germ cells with commercial potential. The industry partners committed to this project represent Norway?s largest breeding organizations for fish, plants and animals. Each has invested in research to understand the genetic basis for key traits, and has experience implementing genetic information to develop a modern breeding program. Studies have highlighted genetic variants with significant impact on production traits but, until now, we have lacked innovative technologies allowing us to efficiently validate variants, define their effects, and ultimately develop strategies whereby their value can be realized in production. An important feature of the project is that it unites industry, researchers, and political advisors in addressing central questions and challenges related to gene editing, and as such serves as a platform to explore how this new technology can best be used to maintain national and international competitiveness of Norwegian breeding companies.