Plant scientists are delighted by US ruling which gives green light to gene-editing

American researchers have been given the go-ahead to use gene-editing techniques to alter crops and plants, The Guardian reports (HERE).

The decision allows scientists to create a new generation of genetically altered crops without serious restriction and paves the way for approvals for similar work in Britain and the rest of Europe.

The decision – by the US Department of Agriculture – has delighted scientists, who had feared that limitations on the creation and growing of genetically modified crops would also be imposed on crops created using far simpler gene-editing techniques.

“I think this decision by American legislators will have all sorts of benefits in the long run,” said Professor Denis Murphy of the University of South Wales.

“This is a win-win situation because agriculture for gene-editing is cheaper, faster, simpler and more precise than the genetic modification of plants, in which a gene is taken from one organism and moved to another.”

The European Court of Justice indicated in January that it does not think crops created though gene-editing techniques should be regulated by the rules that govern genetically modified organisms in Europe, The Guardian says.

“At the same time, Britain’s Acre – the advisory committee on releases into the environment – also seems to be sympathetic to this position,” said Professor Huw Dylan Jones of Aberystwyth University.

“It is very encouraging.”

In the wake of hostile green campaigns, Britain imposed severe restrictions on GM crops two decades ago and few have been grown.

Many scientists worried that this fate would also befall plants created by the newer and simpler technique of gene-editing and a technology at which Britain excels would be banned.

These fears are now disappearing, they say.

“If we have our own domestic gene-editing industry then scientists trained at our universities will have something to work on here when they qualify,” said Professor Murphy.

“At present, our young scientists have to go to work in another country if they want to continue working on the topic.”

Gene-editing could lead to the development of domestic crops particularly suited to Britain, said Professor Jones.

“Loliums and clovers that are good for grazing could be improved to make them more hardy, for example,” he said. “It is very hopeful.”

The Guardian explained that genetically modified crops are generated through the introduction of foreign DNA sequences.

Gene-edited crops are created by editing an organism’s native genome.

Gene-editing is more efficient, cheaper, quicker and more precise.

By altering the DNA make-up of a gene the characteristics of a cell or an organism can be changed.

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Royal Society encourages participation in gene editing workshops

Royal Society Te Apārangi is running workshops on how gene editing may impact on healthcare and pest management for those involved with these sectors.

The society is convening a multi-disciplinary panel to consider the potential uses and implications of gene editing in this country.

The first two discussion papers were released late last year.

The society says a valuable part of the process is receiving critical feedback from stakeholders on the two issues.

Anyone interested in attending one or both of the workshops in either Wellington, Christchurch or Auckland, are invited to contact Marc Rands, from the society’s Expert Advice team, to register: marc.rands@royalsociety.org.nz

Participation is encouraged because of the significance of the social, ethical, cultural, legal, scientific and economic challenges of gene editing technology for New Zealand.

Wellington – Royal Society Te Apārangi, Aronui Lecture Theatre
Tuesday 13 March
9:30-11:30am: Gene Editing in Healthcare
12:30-2:30pm: Gene Editing in Pest Control

Christchurch – Tait Technology Centre, Kauri Room
Wednesday 21 March
9:30-11:30am: Gene Editing in Healthcare
12:30-2:30pm: Gene Editing in Pest Control

Auckland – NIWA Auckland, Seminar Room
Wednesday 11 April
9:30-11:30am: Gene Editing in Healthcare
12:30-2:30pm: Gene Editing in Pest Control