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Can gene editing reduce postharvest waste and loss of fruit, vegetables, and ornamentals?


Postharvest waste and loss of horticultural crops exacerbates the agricultural problems facing humankind and will continue to do so in the next decade. Fruits and vegetables provide us with a vast spectrum of healthful nutrients, and along with ornamentals, enrich our lives with a wide array of pleasant sensory experiences. These commodities are, however, highly perishable. Approximately 33% of the produce that is harvested is never consumed since these products naturally have a short shelf-life, which leads to postharvest loss and waste. This loss, however, could be reduced by breeding new crops that retain desirable traits and accrue less damage over the course of long supply chains. New gene-editing tools promise the rapid and inexpensive production of new varieties of crops with enhanced traits more easily than was previously possible. Our aim in this review is to critically evaluate gene editing as a tool to modify the biological pathways that determine fruit, vegetable, and ornamental quality, especially after storage. We provide brief and accessible overviews of both the CRISPR-Cas9 method and the produce supply chain. Next, we survey the literature of the last 30 years, to catalog genes that control or regulate quality or senescence traits that are "ripe" for gene editing. Finally, we discuss barriers to implementing gene editing for postharvest, from the limitations of experimental methods to international policy. We conclude that in spite of the hurdles that remain, gene editing of produce and ornamentals will likely have a measurable impact on reducing postharvest loss and waste in the next 5-10 years.

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