Editing tobacco for drugs rather than cigs

newcotiana tobacco plantsSmoking is an addiction; tobacco, however, is a model plant full of virtues. Docile to biotech interventions, metabolically exuberant, able to churn out plenty of proteins. Now it has attracted 7.2 million euros through an EU research project aiming to harvest biopharmaceuticals by harnessing the power of photosynthesis and new plant breeding techniques. Continue reading

CRISPR at the EU Court

advocate-general-opinionAgbiotech supporters and opponents have been waiting for months for the opinion of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice, hoping that it would settle the fateful question: do edited plants follow the same legislation as GMOs? The answer, however, does not appear to be conclusive and has been variously interpreted. Nature, The Scientist, and The Guardian are cautiously optimistic, but this Euractiv article is even more interesting. Uncertainty is the prevailing mood in this field. Continue reading

Relieving the IP burden on ag research


CRISPR is cheap and easy enough to be employed in every lab not just by major ag-biotech companies. A serious roadblock standing in the way of researchers, however, threatened to limit the technology potential for plant breeding: intellectual property (IP) rights. The good news is that two major patent holders, DuPont Pioneer and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, have agreed to create a joint licensing framework for genome editing in agriculture. As a result, academic researchers are allowed to use CRISPR on plants free of charge, while biotech companies interested in commercial ag applications have a simplified procedure to access to the tools they need. Continue reading

Editing the celiac diet. Is it GM bread?


Wheat contains many genes coding for proteins that are toxic to people with celiac disease (gliadins), but CRISPR could edit them all out. Researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (Córdoba, Spain) have managed to knockout up to 35 of these genes, reducing immunoreactivity by up to 85%. The 100% goal now seems to be at hand. But is biotech “gluten-free” bread tasty? And is it going to reach the market? We asked plant scientist Francisco Barro, corresponding author of the paper recently published in Plant Biotechnology Journal. Continue reading

Debating the rules for CRISPR crops in Brussels

bruxelles cattura

The European Commission is organising the high-level conference “Modern Biotechnologies in Agriculture – Paving the way for responsible innovation”. This one-day event takes place in the Charlemagne Building today, from 9.30 to 18.00. The aim is to stimulate an informed and open debate among all stakeholders on how the EU can benefit from modern biotechnologies and innovation in the food and agricultural sector while maintaining high safety standards. The participants are prominent European policy makers, relevant industry stakeholders, representatives of civil society, scientists, and government experts. Webstreaming is available. For further information, see the conference website


The first flower in the CRISPR garden

morning glory 1Spring in Japan is pink as cherry blossoms, but summer turns violet as the flowers of a climbing plant frequently grown in the gardens of the Rising Sun. It is a kind of morning glory, of the Ipomoea nil species, locally known as Asagao. This plant had its genome sequenced in 2016 and is now inaugurating the CRISPR era in floriculture. Continue reading