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In February, Semilla Nueva launched its first gene editing project with scientists at the University of Wisconsin. This technology could transform Semilla Nueva’s ability to scale biofortified maize.

“Imagine a pair of tiny precision scissors that allow us to insert a gene for nutrition into the DNA of a maize variety known for its high yields and climate resilience,” explains Enrique Kreff, Semilla Nueva’s Breeding Director. “Gene editing tools like CRISPR allow us to make these changes at the exact location in the plant’s DNA where a desired trait, such as Zinc or Iron content, is located. This approach can bypass years of traditional breeding, making it much cheaper and faster to biofortify any maize seed for any part of the world.”

Enrique explains that since our use of gene editing will involve minor genetic modifications, the resulting seeds will be considered non-GMO.

Until now, Semilla Nueva has relied on a conventional breeding approach called “backcrossing,” through which a desired trait in one variety (such as Zinc content) is introduced into another with desired characteristics (such as high yield) through successive generations of planting, selection, and replanting. This process requires up to seven years and can cost as much as $100,000 per hybrid released. CRISPR could reduce the time and cost to a year and $10,000, respectively. 

According to Semilla Nueva’s Executive Director, Curt Bowen, “Gene editing could be a real game-changer for us, making it possible to quickly and inexpensively biofortify the best possible seed for any location in the world.”

While its potential is exciting, the use of CRISPR in maize breeding, especially for nutritional improvements, is still relatively new. Enrique explains, “The first step of our three-year project focuses on looking at 15  genes we’ve identified as potentially responsible for improving nutritional content in maize. From there, we’ll select between 4 to 6 of the most promising genes and use CRISPR to biofortify maize developed by the Government of Guatemala for highland regions and well as other seeds for Central America and Africa.”

We look forward to keeping you updated on our progress!

We have always felt that Semilla Nueva has a deep promise to fulfill; that so much passion from so many people had to be leading to something big. 2013 was the year we truly began to see that promise become a reality. Four times as many farmers experimented with new farming techniques this year. We ran a census that showed  hundreds of families following our farmer leaders’ examples and changing their practices. (more…)

“If you give me a fish, you have fed me for a day. If you teach me how to fish you have fed me until the river is contaminated or the shoreline seized for development. But if you teach me to organize then whatever the challenge I can join together with my peers and we will fashion our own solution.”

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Semilla Nueva would like to warmly welcome our very first Development Fellows, Haley Kirk and Lisa Eash! The Fellowship Program at Semilla Nueva is a 6.5 month long placement for individuals who want to further their on-the-ground experience in non-profit management and agricultural development. 

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By Patricia Bowen, Semilla Nueva Intern

This post was originally posted on Everyday Ambassador’s blog. The “Wednesday Wisdom”  blog is a weekly series curated by Everyday Ambassador partnerships director  Meg VanDeusen. Every Wednesday, they  feature updates from their partners and reflections from the Everyday Ambassador community. To stay current with their latest posts, follow #wednesdaywisdom or #wordstoliveby on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.

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 Nine organizations both national and international came together with Semilla Nueva’s farmers and their families at the first National Farmer Conference at the Semilla Nueva Experimental and Training Center Wednesday, October 29th.

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