Italy is a yellow spot in the heritable editing map. Why?

Look at this map, from a detailed and up-to-date analysis published in the CRISPR Journal. It’s the global policy landscape on heritable human editing, i.e., modified embryos transferred to a uterus to initiate a pregnancy. Who would expect a catholic country like Italy to stand out as one of the very few countries not totally prohibiting such a controversial practice?

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A bold proposal and a cautious report

Let’s imagine a hundred or more citizens from all over the globe, selected to partecipate in a giant focus group aiming to represent world views. It would be an unprecedented social experiment, that’s for sure, but the call is worth considering. The bold proposal comes from a group of social scientists and a few geneticists (George Church included) writing today in Science. Fascinating as it is, this kind of assembly is probably easier said than done. However, the main problem, in my opinion, comes next: what should experts and politicians do with the assembly’s deliberations?

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EU Citizens’ Initiative for fair rules on NBT

The initiative to foster responsible agricultural innovation in the EU was started by a group of young Master’s students from eight EU member states, with backgrounds in food safety, food law, environmental studies, plant sciences, economics and biotechnology. They met at Wageningen University and joined forces to urge the European Commission to update the legislation on plant breeding. Please visit https://www.growscientificprogress.org/ to know more and sign up.

German Academies call for new GM rules

Picture: Sisters of Design

The following is an excerpt from the news section of the Leopoldina website. Please note that DFG stands for the German research funding organization.

The Leopoldina, the Union of German Academies and the DFG have drafted recommendations for ensuring science-based regulation of genome edited plants in the EU. These recommendations include the amendment of European genetic engineering legislation.

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Animal Farm. Fresh CRISPR stories

Wired cover April 2019Edited animals are in the news this week. Wired dedicates its cover story to “A more human livestock industry, brought to you by CRISPR,” focusing on experiments being done at the University of California, Davis. Alison Van Eenennaam is trying to alter sexual traits in cattle by targeting a single gene called SRY. The science is still difficult, however, and US regulations uncertain. Continue reading

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

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