Genome editing: United Kingdom on its way to the top
The British Parliament is planning to pass a law that will provide new legislation for new breeding technologies, such as genome editing. This new legislation will pave the way for Great Britain to become a leading figure in agri-food research.
Tuesday, November 8, 2022
The “AgroPages” online portal reports on the change to the regulation of new breeding technologies in Great Britain. The introduction of a more proportionate and science-based regulatory system for precision breeding will unlock huge opportunities for agriculture. New breeding technologies, such as genome editing, allow crops to be bred that are more resistant to weather extremes and pests and therefore have a reduced need for plant protection products. British scientists are already world leaders in the field of precision breeding. The proposed bill will further strengthen the United Kingdom’s position and increase its attractiveness for research and development investment.
“A crucial time for agriculture”
The bill will allow plants that have been bred with the help of genome editing to be brought onto the market. These are plants that have undergone genetic changes that could also have occurred naturally or been achieved with conventional breeding methods. It does not apply to plants that have had genetic material from a different species inserted into them. The Chief Scientific Adviser of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Gideon Henderson, told “AgroPages”: “This is an important time for agricultural science. The ability to use gene editing to make precise, targeted changes to the genetic code of organisms, in a way that can mimic traditional breeding, enables development of new crop varieties that are more resistant to pests, healthier to eat, and more resilient to drought and heat as climate changes”.
Essentially, genome editing does not do anything that nature could not do. For thousands of years, people have been selecting crops with desirable properties and breeding them further. However, the new breeding methods allow this process to take place much more quickly and more efficiently. The time needed to breed varieties with the desired properties can be reduced to a minimum. This is an enormous advantage, especially in view of the ongoing climate crisis, as time is running out. The change in the law gives us the opportunity to grow a variety of wheat that is more resistant to changing climatic conditions. Researchers at the John Innes Centre in Norwich have used genome editing to identify a key gene in wheat that can be used to introduce traits such as heat resilience whilst maintaining high yield.
Helping to combat food waste
Genome editing can also help to combat food waste by extending the shelf life of food. With the help of genome editing, British biotech company, Tropic, has grown a banana that does not turn brown. As the fruit normally spoils quickly, this will allow the number of bananas wasted to be reduced.
Vegetable producers are currently struggling. The reason for this is the lack of crop protection products . It is becoming increasingly difficult to bring saleable products onto the market. Some farmers are even reaching their limits to such an extent that they have had to stop growing certain vegetable varieties.
Fruit, berry and wine growing is increasingly threatened by pests such as the Japanese beetle, the spotted wing drosophila and the Mediterranean fruit fly. Producers are sounding the alarm – but there is a lack of pesticides that can put an end to the pests.
The high number of plant protection treatments is a major challenge for organic farmers. One of them is apple grower Marco Messerli from Kirchdorf BE. He has had to treat susceptible apple varieties with organic pesticides a total of 48 times. Too much, he thinks, and is now calling for the authorisation of new breeding methods. Experts agree with him.
A shortage of seed potatoes is looming in 2024. If there is a shortage of seed potatoes, the popular carbohydrate suppliers cannot be harvested. And because seed potatoes are in short supply throughout Europe, importing them will also be difficult. According to Swisspatat, varieties of French fries are particularly affected.