• Preparation of a DNA sample in the laboratory
    Genome Editing

Genome editing


In a nutshell
The term genome editing includes a number of methods. They can all change individual building blocks of DNA in a precise and targeted manner.

Many examples show that this allows new varieties of plants to be bred quicker and more precisely than ever before.

Social acceptance still in the balance

Application in practical plant breeding since 2012.

Application at KWS
KWS investigates the potential of these innovative methods.

The new breeding methods complement the tool box of farmers and offer additional opportunities to enhance plant breeding. The consequences of climate change, new fungal infections, the desire for less fertiliser on the field and high-quality agricultural products: Plant breeders respond to all these challenges for sustainable agriculture with new varieties, using the most suitable breeding methods. Thanks to their simplicity of use, we therefore see great potential in the new breeding methods.

New breeding methods

The history of plant breeding began with the selection of especially desirable properties. This was followed by cross-, hybrid and mutation breeding, and later genetic engineering and marker-assisted breeding, to name but a few procedures. This development was necessary to provide new solutions for the constantly increasing needs of society. Now we are working on expanding the possibilities.

Video on genome editing

The methods of genome editing at a glance

The new procedures can be used in a variety of ways. Depending on their application, some of them can produce genetically modified plants. It is therefore important to evaluate these procedures in a nuanced manner.

Zinc fingers, TALEN and CRISPR/Cas can be applied in different ways. Variants 1/2 are products of procedures that do not involve gene transfer. Our selection shows how plants are bred using the new procedures.


Unlike with TALEN and zinc finger, a nucleic acid-protein complex is responsible for binding and cleaving. The nucleic acid recognises where the genome should be cleaved. The protein is responsible for precise cleavage of the DNA. No genes are incorporated – either from a foreign or a closely related species. Here too, mutations are created at predefined points.


These new methods make use of oligonucleotides to change individual DNA building blocks at predefined points in the genome. The result is a mutation, a change in the genetic material (genome), as it also occurs in nature.

Zinc finger*.

Similar to ODM, mutations are also created at predefined points. Proteins (zinc finger nucleases) are used, consisting of two functional areas. The zinc finger part of the protein binds to the desired gene in the genetic material of the plant. The nuclease part is responsible for precise cleavage of the DNA.


Similar to zinc finger, a protein consisting of two functional areas (DNA-binding area and nuclease) is responsible for recognising a certain section in the genetic material and cleaving the DNA at this point. No genes are incorporated – either from a foreign or a closely related species. Mutations are created at predefined points.

*in variants 1/2

  • People at KWS

    Genome editing enables more precise plant breeding. The different applications require a nuanced evaluation on a regulatory level.

    Anja Matzk, Head Regulatory Affairs Biotechnology

Genome Editing

The new methods add to the farmers’ tool kit. Genome editing allows breeding objectives to be achieved quicker and more precisely than ever before, thereby expanding the genetic variation of a wider variety of crops. For example:

  • Ensuring yield progress
  • Improved resistance of plants against diseases, pests and abiotic stress
  • High quality of seeds and agricultural products
  • Reducing the use of resources
  • Boosting energy and nutrient content
  • Even niche crops and crops that are very expensive to breed benefit from breeding progress

How do the new methods work? Genome editing such as CRISPR/Cas.

In a first step, farmers guide an enzyme (nuclease) to the desired location in the genome.

The nuclease accurately cleaves the DNA and creates a double-strand break.

The cell's own repair system fuses the DNA back together. This may involve removing, adding or exchanging building blocks - this is the crucial moment of DNA change.

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Stephan Krings
Head of Global Marketing and Communications
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