Researchers successfully edited the genome of strains of rice grown in Southeast Asia and West Africa to block a pathogen that ravages yields of the staple crop, the latest example of gene modification that may reduce hunger throughout the world.

Bacterial blight is a closely-studied disease than destroys as much as 75% of a crop yield – a devastating harrier in regions where billions depend on rice as a primary food source. Scientists at Manila’s International Rice Research Institute used CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to prevent rice from expressing genes that serve as Xoo’s point of entry to hijack the plant’s nutrients, according to Nature. The team found that rice plants with these engineered genes were resistant to at least 95 Xoo strains.

Genetic modifications like these have caught the attention of private equity and venture capital investors seeking opportunities in life sciences. PE has invested $36.4 billion this year in companies working in the field, more than double the $16.8 billion invested in all of 2018, according to PitchBook. VC has invested $20.2 billion across 1,180 deals this year, compared to $30.3 billion last year.

Bacterial blight, which is also called kresek, causes the leaves and seedlings of rice plants to yellow and wilt before dying.

  • Shares of CRISPR Therapeutics AG (CRSP) which is using the Crispr/Cas9 gene editing tool to create therapies to treat cancer, diabetes and other diseases, rose 9% to $43.50 after the company reported earnings Oct. 28 that dramatically beat analysts’ expectations. The company reported third-quarter earnings $2.40 a share, compared to a loss of $1.07 a share, in the same period a year ago. 
  • Broad cultivation of genetically-modified rice has met with strident opposition, however. The new book Golden Rice: The Imperiled Birth of a GMO Superfood examines how groups including Greenpeace blocked the use of Golden Rice, which was created 20 years ago to combat death and diseases caused by vitamin A deficiency across the developing world.
  • “Golden Rice has not been made available to those for whom it was intended in the 20 years since it was created,” said the book’s author, Ed Regis. “Had it been allowed to grow in these nations, millions of lives would not have been lost to malnutrition, and millions of children would not have gone blind.”