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An appreciation for technology

Crisper lab
Jason Ross, an Iowa State University (ISU) animal science professor, watches as Yunsheng Li, a post-doc student in the ISU Animal Sciences Department, analyzes DNA in this 2018 photo. Ross and others say gene-editing techniques are providing researchers the potential to precisely work within genomes to develop a wide range of improved livestock and crops. PHOTO / GARY FANDEL

Lately as I sit down with my first morning cup of coffee, I read updates about how the United States and the UK are administering the first approved coronavirus vaccines to health care workers and seniors. 

It’s incredible that scientists have come this far in achieving what once seemed impossible — developing an entirely new vaccine within months instead of years, hopefully saving thousands if not millions of lives.

If there’s anything we have gained in 2020, it’s a new appreciation for how technology can help solve some of our world’s most pressing challenges, whether it is developing safe vaccines, improving our food or reducing agriculture’s environmental impact.

Nobel prizes

It’s fitting that in 2020, when scientists achieved one of the greatest advancements in public health, that the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to two scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, who discovered CRISPR gene technology.

CRISPR technology is helping scientists find therapies to treat cancer and genetic disorders such as sickle cell anemia.

During the pandemic, scientists are using CRISPR to develop new tests and potential treatments for COVID-19.

CRISPR also offers the possibility to make our food safer and more nutritious. For example, scientists are using CRISPR to develop allergen-free foods and to remove potential toxins from staple crops in developing countries.

Better tools for farmers

In agriculture, Iowa farmers are already adopting new technologies — such as precision agriculture, livestock genomics and GMO seeds — to reduce their environmental footprint and to grow safe, nutritious food.

Iowa farmers remain committed to sustainability, continuous improvement, and protecting the health and well-being of farm animals.

Unfortunately, the reality is we do face great challenges in the years ahead. Yet as the development of the new coronavirus vaccine shows, we should stay optimistic for what we can achieve when we work together and place a little trust in science.

We need technology to find new cures for disease. We need technology to reduce our impact on the land, water and wildlife. And we need technology to improve the safety and nutrition of our food — including my morning cup of coffee.



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