select search filters
roundups & rapid reactions
before the headlines
Fiona fox's blog

expert reaction to new legislation for genome editing in plants, as announced by Defra

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has announced new legislation to cut red tape for gene editing plant research. 


Prof Andrew Thompson, Head of the Cranfield Soil and AgriFood Institute, said:

“The older technology of genetic manipulation has allowed us to create plants that use water more efficiently, generating “more crop per drop”- vital where food production is limited by water availability. Achieving the same goal using novel gene editing approaches in a more permissive regulatory framework will certainly help this and other beneficial traits to be fully exploited for the benefit of farmers, consumers and the environment.”


Prof John Dupre, Professor in Philosophy of Science, and Director of Egenis, the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences, University of Exeter, said:

“This announcement on genome editing of plants looks like a positive movement forward. Provided, crucially, that a robust regulatory process remains in place and that this is integrated into a general and wide-ranging agricultural strategy, it should open up the possibility of valuable improvements in quantity, quality and environmental impact of crop production.”


Professor Robbie Waugh, director of the International Barley Hub, said:

“If the response to COVID-19 has sent one important message to the British public, it’s been to ‘listen to the science’. Relaxation of the regulations around gene-edited plants announced today by DEFRA is, I believe, a positive reflection of DEFRA listening to scientific evidence that unequivocally demonstrates that minor genetic changes induced by gene editing are indistinguishable from those that randomly arise in nature all of the time. The big difference is they can be introduced reliably and with incredible precision. For those of us involved in developing strategies to address some of the major challenges facing the planet today, the announcement reflects a progressive and scientifically justifiable decision based on science, and will undoubtedly increase our ability to address these challenges head-on.”


Prof Wendy Harwood, Head of the Crop Transformation Group at the John Innes Centre, said:

“Genome editing allows us, for the first time, to make small precise changes in a plant’s existing DNA that mimic changes that could occur naturally. The technique overcomes the random nature and long time-scales associated with older traditional technologies. This means that essential characteristics such as better resilience to climate extremes could be made available more rapidly, helping to ensure a secure food supply. Field trials are an essential part of the process to develop improved crops. The changes announced are welcomed as they will make field trials of genome edited crops easier and less expensive, further speeding up the process of delivering  benefits to farmers and consumers.”


Prof Martin Warren, Head, Food Innovation and Health Programme, Quadram Institute, said:

“Gene editing provides the opportunity to enhance the nutritional quality of plants – a really important issue as we embrace more plant-rich diets.

“Gene editing represents a very precise way to improve specific qualities such as the accumulation of higher levels of micronutrients, including minerals and vitamins, which are often found in low abundance in crops.

“The announcement by Defra is welcomed as it will allow the faster development of such plants, which can be used to tackle key national and global challenges associated with malnutrition.”


Dr Brittany Hazard, Group Leader, Quadram Institute, said:

“The ability to employ gene editing technology in our research program will provide a substantial opportunity to accelerate the development of staple crops that can deliver health benefits to consumers. 

We anticipate that gene editing will allow us to overcome many challenges and lengthy timescales of conventional breeding and rapidly generate wheat with enhanced levels of dietary fibre that could easily be adopted by plant breeders.”


Prof Ian A Graham FRS, Director of BioYork and Weston Chair of Biochemical Genetics at the University of York, said:

“The Defra Gene Editing Announcement is an exciting prospect for UK agriculture at a time when we need to be urgently responding to the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. Deployment of gene editing will enable careful, precision engineering based improvement of existing crops and the development of novel agricultural products  in a way that was simply not possible until now. The Government’s decision has come not a moment too soon.”


Dr Penny Hundleby, Senior Scientist at the John Innes Centre, said:

“Defra’s announcement sends a clear message of support for UK science and the future of our agritech and farming industries. These technologies will help support agrobiodiversity, plant health and our commitment to food security, sustainability and developing crops for a changing climate.

“Gene editing, together with access to genome sequencing (where the UK is strong) moves us into an exciting era of affordable, intelligent and precision-based plant breeding. We will also see more products aimed at the convenience / consumer preference markets – e.g. more nutrient-dense salads, pitless cherries, naturally decaffeinated coffee etc.”


Professor Sophien Kamoun FRS, Group Leader at The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, said:

“Genome editing technology can be used to remove genes from crop genomes that make them susceptible to diseases. Researchers at The Sainsbury Laboratory demonstrated this by removing 48 nucleotides from the tomato genome to make it resistant to powdery mildew. Powdery mildew disease is one of the main reasons why UK tomato growers spray fungicides on their crops. The edited tomato, named Tomelo, offers the opportunity to dramatically reduce these chemical inputs with benefits for farmers health and the environment, not to mention reduced production costs. We need to be able to use these innovations if we want to provide enough food for our growing human population without causing further damage to our environment.

“Back in 2013, our scientists at The Sainsbury Laboratory were among the very first to develop the CRISPR gene editing tech in plants, a technology that carries so much potential and so many opportunities for world agriculture. Yet, we had to sit back and watch other countries, like the US and Japan, bring their CRISPR bio-edited plants to market. I hope that we can finally capitalize on the world-leading research base we have in this country in plant sciences and help make agriculture more sustainable.”


Prof Derek Stewart, director of the James Hutton Institute’s Advanced Plant Growth Centre, said:

“The relaxation of the regulation of gene-edited crops offers many opportunities to deliver the next generation of crops that will be able to deliver simultaneously to the economic, environmental, biodiversity and net-zero agendas in the UK. To do this, we will need state-of-the-art science and translation facilities such as the Advanced Plant Growth Centre at the James Hutton Institute to create, develop and translate these new crops into the field environment and ensure they are both suitable for purpose and environmentally appropriate.”


Prof Ian Crute, former Chief Scientist of AHDB and former Director of Rothamsted Research, said:

“After decades of research, plant scientists now better understand the genetic components of crops’ defences against pests and pathogens. Gene editing provides the logical next-step in applying this knowledge to deliver, more efficiently, pest and disease resistant varieties that can be grown successfully without recourse to the regular use of agrochemicals.”


Prof Johnathan Napier, Flagship Leader at Rothamsted Research, said:

“This is a really positive development and I am genuinely excited by the opportunities this shift in the classification of genome editing in plants will bring. When I carried out the UK’s first field trial of a GE crop in 2018, Defra was of the opinion that our edited Camelina plants were not GM, so it is great to see a return to that position. I strongly believe that genome editing can contribute to making crops to be more nutritious, more sustainable and more resilient, and this change to how field trials are regulated is a welcome first step in liberalising how the UK regulates new genetic technologies like GE and GM. I look forward to being part of this exciting new chapter, one where the UK can better realise its potential as a world leader in plant biotechnology to deliver food security.”


Prof Huw Jones, Chair in Translational Genomics for Plant Breeding, Aberystwyth University, said:

“Investigating how plants with novel genetic traits behave under field conditions should be a natural part of the experimental process. The use of some modern breeding methods have until now made this transition difficult and hampered applied plant research. I welcome this announcement, which will normalise the lab to field step for innovative breeding via gene editing that has the potential to make food production safer and more sustainable. To ensure a level playing field for research, I urge the Welsh and Scottish authorities to make similar changes.”


Prof Lesley Torrance, Executive Director of Science at the James Hutton Institute, said:

“We welcome this decision; while it is important to thoroughly scrutinise new breeding technologies to ensure the highest standards for food safety, it is also important that regulations are updated to take account of new information and new developments. This decision reflects this approach and is a step in the right direction by facilitating field trials in relevant environments. Further work is needed to develop the rules around gene-edited crops for commercial release and we look forward to contributing to the next steps to enable new gene-edited crops to be safely released and fulfil their potential for climate resilience and provide healthy, nutritious food while safeguarding the environment.”


Prof Nick Talbot FRS, Executive Director of The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, said:

“Genome editing provides the opportunity to deliver knowledge-based plant breeding and harness plant biodiversity.  We can achieve the outcomes of plant breeding—which has been so successful in controlling diseases and improving yields—but in a much more precise manner. In this way, we can aim to produce nutritious crops requiring much lower fertiliser inputs and with greater resilience. We need innovation to help us escape from the chemical treadmill of current agriculture. In the face of the climate emergency, doing nothing is no longer an option.”


Prof Jonathan Jones FRS, Group Leader at The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, said:

“I welcome the decision of DEFRA to act on the scientific consensus about the utility and safety of gene editing for crop improvement. Enabling plant breeders to take advantage of these benign and useful methods is essential to increase food production by 50% by 2050, in a warming world, while minimizing agrichemical use.”

“I’m also pleased to see in the DEFRA statement that there are plans to adopt a more scientific and proportionate approach to the regulation of genetic technologies. In our own work, we use the GM method to move immune receptors from one plant to another, increasing the plant’s capacity to activate its defences quickly enough to thwart disease.  The government must not miss the opportunity to facilitate use of this benign and helpful method for reducing the environmental impact of agriculture, and I look forward to seeing this reassessment implemented.”



Declared interests

Prof Nick Talbot: “Nick is in receipt of funding from The Gatsby Charitable Foundation, The Leverhulme Trust and UKRI (BBSRC and GCRF Funding) and is a Gatsby Plant Science Advisor. He is also a member of the John Innes Governing Council and Board member of PBL Technology.”

Prof Jonathan Jones: “Professor Jonathan Jones is a senior investigator at The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, and uses molecular and genetic approaches to study disease resistance in plants. Jones co-founded Norfolk Plant Sciences in 2007 with Prof Cathie Martin of JIC, with the goal of bringing flavonoid-enriched tomatoes to market ( Jones is on the board of, the science advisory board of the 2Blades foundation ( and the board of NIAB Cambridge University Farm. Jones has isolated and is deploying new resistance genes against potato late blight from wild relatives of potato, and conducting field trials to evaluate how well they work to protect the crop in the field and to generate improved varieties of potato (see See also”

Dr Penny Hundleby: “uses gene editing in crops to better understand the role of plant genes. She is currently on secondment to the Anglian Innovation Partnership as a Science Advisor covering the Norwich Research Park.”

Prof Sophien Kamoun: “I consult and receive funding from the biotech and plant breeding industry, notably BASF, Limagrain and Rijk Zwaan. I’m a member of the Two Blades Foundation Science Advisory Board. My other professional activities and recent research funding are listed at

Prof Johnathan Napier: “is currently running both GM and GE field trials at Rothamsted, and last year sowed 600,000 GM camelina plants growing in the field, as part of a project to make a sustainable source of omega-3 fish oils.”

Prof Huw Jones:

Direct employment: Aberystwyth University 2016 – current; Rothamsted Research 1998 – 2016.

Other fee-paid work from relevant organisations, consultancies etc.: BBSRC grant review panels 2000 – current; FSA ACNFP 2019 – current; Expert, GMO panel, European Food Safety Authority 2009 – 2018.  As external examiner of the university PhD viva process, I have sometimes receive a small honorarium in addition to travel and accommodation costs from the university hosting the examination (since 2007 I have been external examiner for ten PhD viva voce examinations in UK and abroad).  I have received small payments of royalties from publishers for academic books written or edited.

Membership, affiliation, trusteeships or decision-making position with relevant organisations: Fellow of Royal Society of Biology 2002 – current.  Honorary Professor, School of Biosciences, Nottingham University 2009 – 2018.  Honorary researcher, Rothamsted Research UK, 2016-2019.  Member of the EPSO Plants for the Future. Gene editing working group 2019 – current.  Chair, UK Plant Sciences Federation Working Group on Regulatory Frameworks 2014-2015.  Monogram steering committee, 2011 – 2015.  Member of BBSRC pool of experts, Jan 2017 – current.

Other personal interests: I am invited to attend typically between 5 and 10 conferences or other meetings per year where the travel and accommodation (if applicable) are paid for by the host organisations.  I have never received a fee to participate in such meetings.

Indirect financial or non-financial support from relevant organisations: I am a member of the IBERS Aberystwyth University research team in receipt of a BBSRC Core Strategic Programme Grant Resilient Crops BBS/E/W/0012843.  I am one of four academic supervisors for an Aberystwyth University/Syngenta PhD studentship, using molecular genetics to design sentinel plants for detecting biotic stress, 2017-2020.  I am a UK representative of an EU COST Action PlantEd ‘Genome editing in plants – a technology with transformative potential’ 2019 – 2022.  I am a UK representative, working group and management committee member of an EU COST Action iPlanta CA15223. ‘Modifying plants to produce interfering RNA’ 2017 – 2020.  I led a research project: Smart Labels for GMO foods, Aberystwyth University Transforming Social Science Fund, £1K Jan, 2017.  Rothamsted Research was in receipt of funding from BBSRC Tools and Resources Development Fund BB/L017768/1, 2014 – 2016, HD Jones & K Edwards, Development of specific TALENs for precision engineering in wheat.”

Prof Wendy Harwood: “I am a member of the Food Standards Agency Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) but this quotation is in a personal capacity.”

None others received.

in this section

filter RoundUps by year

search by tag