If there is a silver lining to come from the global Covid-19 pandemic it is how quickly scientists were able to produce an effective vaccine.

It is powerful testimony of what science can achieve when given political backing. CRISPR gene-editing technology allowed a vaccine to precisely target, cut and destroy the Covid-19 virus.

CRISPR Cas9 is a powerful gene editing tool – the Cas9 part acts like a pair of molecular scissors whereby parts of the genome can be removed, or amended. The Pfizer vaccine deployed this technology to great success and the same technology can be used in Scotland to produce vaccines for both avian and swine flu at the Roslin Institute.

But science cannot work in a vacuum and there must be political will and support.

When Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery of CRISPR Cas9 gene-editing, the citation stated that the technology brought new opportunities for plant breeding as well as innovative medical therapies.

As a former governor of the Scottish Crop Research Institute (Now the James Hutton Institute) in Dundee, I am aware that such opportunities can only be realised fully when grown in outdoor field trials. The Covid-19 pandemic showed us that where there is political will, great progress can be made and at speed.

England has now given the green light for such field trials to be grown and my plea is for the Scottish Government to follow suit.

The good news is that within the UK our scientists are world leaders in gene editing technology. The John Innes Centre (JIC) welcomed the opportunity to grow gene edited wheat in field trials in England. “We use gene editing to develop crops which are more nutritious and resilient to climate change”, said Professor Wendy Harwood, whom leads the Crop Transformation Group at JIC. She told me good progress was being made to produce wheat and barley that can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Whilst all plants require N, the application of ammonium nitrate does not come without risk, or cost. By growing wheat in outdoor trials, and it can assimilate N from the atmosphere – which contains 78% N – the final hurdle to commercial crops can be overcome.

The Bill and Miranda Gates Foundation is backing this project as it will be a game changer with huge benefits to sustainable crop production along with a massive reduction on greenhouse gases in the form of nitrous oxide (300 times more polluting that CO2 ).

But such science must be backed by our political leaders. Now is the time for Scottish Government to align with England and to allow gene-edited plants to be grown outside in field trials in Scotland.