Milan toasts with biotech wine

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Assobiotec tasting event in Milan (photo credit: Marco Marazza)

When toasting during Christmas holidays, perhaps with a glass of Italian sparkling prosecco, think about it: viticulture in Europe occupies 3% of the cultivated area, but it accounts for 65% of all fungicides employed in agriculture. The adoption of new wine grape varieties resistant to powdery and downy mildew could significantly cut chemical use. If fairly regulated, advanced biotech tools such as CRISPR could help sustainability without losing anything of the genetic identity of iconic varieties. Continue reading

CRISPR rice vs GM rice: which would you buy?

Rice_grains_(IRRI)Just imagine you could find them all on the supermarket shelves, would you buy rice labeled as CRISPR or GMO, or stick to conventional non-genetically modified rice? And what price would you consider fair? Aaron Shew and colleagues from the University of Arkansas conducted a multi-country assessment of willingness-to-pay for and willingness-to-consume a hypothetical CRISPR-produced food and published their findings in Global Food Security. Continue reading

EU science advisors on CRISPR and GMOs

SAMThe European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors has published a statement on gene editing and the GMO directive, following the controversial judgment released last July by the EU Court of Justice. They state that new scientific knowledge and recent technical developments made Directive 2001/18 “no longer fit for purpose.” Therefore “there is a need to improve EU GMO legislation to be clear, evidence-based, implementable, proportionate and flexible.” The document was welcomed by Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, and Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. Let’s hope actions will follow, and laws keep up with labs.

The Netherlands are calling. Will the EU answer?

windmillA proposal from the Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment points the way out of the GM regulatory impasse for most CRISPR crops in Europe. Rather than trying to clarify ambiguous definitions, the EU could simply amend Annex B1, that is the list of technologies that are excluded from regulation by the directive on GMOs (2001/18/EC). Continue reading

Ag research or biowarfare?

corndrought“Agricultural research, or a new bioweapon system?”. This is the question asked by Guy Reeves et al. in a policy forum published in Science today. The evolutionary geneticist from the Max Planck Institute and his German and French coauthors doubt that the Insect Allies program funded by Darpa in the US will realize significant agricultural benefits, e.g. in relation to drought, frost, flooding, herbicide, salinity, or disease. They fear, indeed, that it will be “widely perceived as an effort to develop biological agents for hostile purposes and their delivery, which – if true – would constitute a breach of the Biological Weapons Convention.” Continue reading

CRISPR crops and the EU law. A wise proposal from Germany

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When the European Court of Justice ruled that CRISPR products must obey the same cumbersome rules as GMOs, European ag scientists were shocked. After complaining, it’s time to advance new proposals. A German council advising the Federal Government has just released its recommendations, calling for new EU legislation. According to the 17 members panel, named Bioökonomierat, we should adopt a differentiated approach to the genome-editing technology and its applications, ranging from single letter mutations to complex genome modifications. For example, graduated licensing and approval procedures for different classes of risk. Please see the main points below. Continue reading

Inviting you for a CRISPR snack in Rome

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credit: The Atlantic

It won’t be a candy bar like the one in the picture, but it will be the first CRISPR snack ever eaten in Italy and among the first in the world. A taste of rice edited in Milan, according to rumors. The initiative, organized by The Luca Coscioni Association for freedom of scientific research, will take place on September 18 at 10 am, in front of the Italian Parliament. The first CRISPR meal ever served was a tête-à-tête between a scientist and a journalist in Sweden in September 2016. A month later Calyxt hosted a dinner made with food edited with a different biotech tool in a famous restaurant in Manhattan. The Italian snack is different, however, because of its public nature and political aim. It’s a call to politicians, journalists and scientists to engage in the regulatory debate about genome editing after the EU Court of Justice ruled that edited plants are GMOs. GM field trials are banned in Italy and CRISPR represents a much-needed second chance for geneticists to get out of the impasse.