What’s the right way to regulate edited-plants? The question still waits for an answer in Brussels, and debate goes on in Europe.
According to Reuters, France backs non-GMO regulation for crop gene-editing in the EU. Gene editing of crops and livestock may soon be permitted in England, says the Guardian. Parliamentary commissions divided on new breeding techniques, media report in Italy. For a comparative viewpoint of regulatory frameworks globally, see the recent “Genome editing for crop improvement” by All European Academies.
Announcing the more than well-deserved prize to Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, the chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry Claes Gustafsson said: “There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all. It has not only revolutionised basic science, but also resulted in innovative crops and will lead to ground-breaking new medical treatments.” However, the media mostly celebrated CRISPR therapeutic applications while forgetting agriculture in the coverage of the Nobel Prize. Yet Doudna has spoken often, and passionately, about what CRISPR can do for sustainable agriculture and did it again at the World CRISPR Day, a few days after the Nobel announcement.
The Israeli company CanBreed announced that it is ready to edit medical grade cannabis. They aim to develop enhanced seeds, endowed with resistance to powdery mildew for example. But there’s plenty of science to do: despite being a multibillion-dollar business, cannabis can be considered a neglected plant from a research point of view.
FT (Flowering Locus T) is a small protein that helps plants know when to flower. Now it also allows geneticists to create heritable gene edits in the shoot apical meristem. The trick is a guide RNA augmented with an FT sequence that promotes cell-to-cell mobility. The result is a new approach to gain access to the germline.
European scientists must wait for the EC to carry out targeted consultations with Member States and EU-level stakeholders. Then the Commission study on new genomic techniques will be delivered by 30 April 2021. In the meantime, the United States has decided to relax the rules for biotech crops.
The waxy corn lines developed through CRISPR-editing by Corteva Agriscience are agronomically superior to waxy hybrids produced by breeding. According to a study published in Nature Biotechnology by Huirong Gao et al., they give on average 5.5 bushels per acre higher yields.
Do you remember prime editing? It’s the new ‘search-and-replace’ genome editing technology that mediates targeted insertions, deletions, all 12 possible base-to-base conversions, and combinations thereof. The first good news is that David Liu et al. adapted prime editors for use in rice and wheat, so don’t miss their paper in Nature Biotechnology.
Do you want it locally grown, water-saving and pesticide-free? Urban agriculture might suit you, with a little help from gene editing. Zachary Lippman’s team has already succeeded with Solanaceae fruit crops, optimizing tomatoes and ground-cherries for indoor production (see their paper in Nature Biotechnology).
Danielle Nierenberg is President of Food Tank and an influential voice on food issues. She interviewed hundreds and hundreds of farmers, researchers, government leaders, NGOs and journalists in 50 plus countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America over the last several years. We asked her three questions for an article on sustainable innovations to be published in Italy.