Plant agriculture is poised at a technological turning point. Recent advances in genome engineering make it possible to precisely alter DNA sequences in living cells, providing unprecedented control over a plant’s genetic material. The new technologies are already being widely adopted in academic and industrial research and it is expected that crops developed using these new technologies will be produced world-wide over the coming years.
These emerging crop breeding technologies offer a range of opportunities but also face regulatory challenges and may require new risk assessment approaches.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is working with experts from a variety of backgrounds to develop a position statement on developments in new genetic technologies, their application in crop breeding and implications for risk assessment and regulation. The position statement is expected later this summer.
This briefing enabled journalists to find out about molecular genetic techniques for genome editing (site-directed mutagenesis, such as CRISPR, TALENs, ZFN technologies, oligo-directed gene targeting) and tools for epigenetic modification (such as RNA-dependent DNA methylation for gene silencing). There is an opportunity to ask about the science behind these technologies, the regulatory challenges and critically for some – are they or are they not GM?!
Professor Sophien Kamoun, Head of The Sainsbury Laboratory, John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park
Dr Sebastian Schornack, Research Group Leader, University of Cambridge, Sainsbury Laboratory
Professor Huw Jones, Rothamsted Research; member of EFSA GMO panel
Professor Ottoline Leyser, Director of The Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge