Bacteria take an uncompromising approach to intruders – they generally take no prisoners and simply shred the threat. If foreign viruses introduce their genetic material into bacteria, for example, the defense mechanism of the bacteria gets straight to work, cutting the unwanted genome into pieces and thus rendering it harmless. This defense mechanism developed by bacteria over millennia is known as CRISPR/Cas, and is commonly and appropriately referred to as “gene scissors.”
What gene scissors do is very different to what conventional genetic engineering in plant breeding does, however. With CRISPR/Cas, the location of the genome in which the modification takes place can be precisely controlled. And a particularly important aspect is that, unlike conventional genetic engineering, which often involves adding genes from other species to organisms, gene scissors are instead generally used to specifically switch off one or more genes or to precisely switch back on traits, for example from wild varieties that have been lost over the course of breeding. The resulting modification is therefore indistinguishable from a conventional breeding breakthrough or a natural mutation, as there is virtually no difference. It’s just that this method is simpler, faster and more precise.