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Archive for the ‘Gene editing’ Category

17 May 2022/

Ellen Phiddian

Gene-editing cockroaches with CRISPR-Cas9 – and maybe other insects

New technique a lab time-saver for world of insect experimentation.

cartoon of syringe injected into big cockroach, with arrow pointing to three baby cockroaches, one of which has white eyes

The new genetic modification method involves directly injecting CRISPR materials into cockroaches, with some of their offspring then carrying the mutation (in this case, a change in eye pigment). Credit: Shirai et al., Cell Reports Methods

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GENETIC MODIFICATION

Researchers have found a simpler way to genetically modify cockroaches with CRISPR-Cas9, considerably reducing the time needed to conduct insect research.

CRISPR-Cas9 is a molecule first discovered in bacteria, which has made genetic modification a much faster and more efficient process.

The new technique, called direct parental CRISPR, or DIPA-CRISPR, allows researchers to avoid having to microinject CRISPR materials into insect embryos. Apparently, this is a major inconvenience in the genetically modified insect world, and it doesn’t work for every insect. In fact, cockroaches’ odd reproductive systems prevent them from being genetically modified with embryo microinjections.

Instead, DIPA-CRISPR works by a female cockroach being injected with the relevant CRISPR tools – meaning that some of her offspring carry the induced genetic modifications.

“In a sense, insect researchers have been freed from the annoyance of egg injections,” says Takaaki Daimon, a researcher at Kyoto University, Japan, and senior author of a paper describing the research, which has been published in Cell Reports Methods.

“We can now edit insect genomes more freely and at will. In principle, this method should work for more than 90% of insect species.”

The researchers used commercially available Cas9 ribonucleoproteins (the proteins that induce genetic modification) to test this method.

They injected these ribonucleoproteins into the haemocoels (main body cavity) of two different insects: the German cockroach (Blattella germanica), and the red flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum).

They then investigated the offspring of these insects, to see whether their genetic modification had worked.

The Cas9 proteins that were designed to “knockout” genes (that is, remove a gene from a genome) were very successful, by genetic modification standards. More than 50% of the red flour beetle offspring, and 22% of the cockroach offspring, lacked the pigment-creating gene that the researchers wanted to remove.

“Knockin” modifications (introducing a new gene into the genome) were less successful, with only very low efficiency.


Read more: Resilience is in the genes for cockroach


The technique depends on the reproductive stage the adult females are at, and a strong understanding of the insect’s ovary development. Unfortunately, fruit flies – which are a model organism for lots of genetic research – won’t respond to this technique.

Nevertheless, the researchers say that DIPA-CRISPR will reduce the expense, and timeframes, of a lot of insect research.

“By improving the DIPA-CRISPR method and making it even more efficient and versatile, we may be able to enable genome editing in almost all of the more than 1.5 million species of insects, opening up a future in which we can fully utilise the amazing biological functions of insects,” says Daimon.

“In principle, it may be also possible that other arthropods could be genome edited using a similar approach. These include agricultural and medical pests such as mites and ticks, and important fishery resources such as shrimp and crabs.”


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Originally published by Cosmos as Gene-editing cockroaches with CRISPR-Cas9 – and maybe other insectsEllen PhiddianEllen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.

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‘Almost all crops today have been changed from their original form’: National Academies of Sciences says GMOs just most recent form of food genetic modification

National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine | May 3, 2022

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Credit: Mary Evans Picture Library
Credit: Mary Evans Picture Library

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation. It is posted under Fair Use guidelines.

People have been changing plants for thousands of years. Humans started farming more than 10,000 years. Agriculture began in Mesopotamia, in the region we now call the Middle East. At first, people took the seeds of wild plants and put them in places where they would grow well and be easier to harvest. Soon, people noticed that some plants performed better than others, and they kept the seeds of the best ones to plant the next year. As people did this year after year, farmed crops slowly became different from their wild relatives. This process is often called domestication.

The choices early farmers made about which seeds to plant were driven by many of the same factors that influence choices made about seeds today. Many wild plants naturally produce toxins that act as a defense against pests, and people made seed choices so that many crops today are tasty, nutritious, and easy to digest. Farmers want plants that are easier to harvest and produce more fruit, vegetables, grains, fiber, or oil. They also look for plants that can withstand disease, pests, flooding, drought and other problems.

Over thousands of years, people grew many types of crops, brought them to new areas of the world, and continued to change the plants to suit their needs.

Methods for changing plants expanded as science and technology advanced

In the 1800s, Gregor Mendel and others made discoveries about how parents pass traits to their offspring. This new understanding helped people produce new varieties of plants with useful qualities using selective breeding. In this method, two plants with desirable traits are deliberately mated so the next generation of plants will have these characteristics. As experiments in plant breeding continued, people learned how to breed plants together to create hybrids with certain traits. For example, hybrid types of corn, wheat, and rice were bred that produce more grain per plant and that can be grown in narrow rows in a field. Farmers are then able to harvest more grain using the same amount of land.

In the 1930s, people found that applying radiation or chemicals to a seed caused plants to have traits different from their parents. This is because radiation and certain chemicals can cause changes in the genes of plants, which determine what characteristics the plant will have. The seeds with the most useful traits caused by these genetic changes were then grown and used to breed new varieties of crops. Today, hundreds of varieties of more than 100 crops that we grow and eat were developed using these means, including many types of rice, wheat, and barley.

With the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 and other advances in understanding how genes work, scientists began to explore other ways to improve plants. By the 1980s, scientists were able to identify specific bits of DNA called genetic markers that are associated with particular traits. By knowing what genetic markers to look for, marker assisted breeding speeds up the breeding process by allowing scientists to know whether a plant will have the desired trait even before it is grown.

For most of history, improving plants depended on choosing two parent plants of similar types or varieties that are able to breed with each other. In the 1980s, scientists also invented ways to create new traits by combining the genes of different kinds of plants, as well as DNA from other organisms, including bacteria and viruses. These new plants carry “recombinant” DNA and are sometimes referred to as Genetically engineeredtransgenicgenetically modified organisms (GMOs), or bioengineered. More than a dozen food crops with traits introduced through recombinant DNA are grown in the world today.

In the 2010s, gene editing was developed, allowing scientists to directly change a plant’s genes without having to use the DNA from another plant or other organism. A few such crops are grown today, including gene-edited soybeans that produce soybean oil with a healthier balance of fats.

Almost all crops today have been changed from their original form

Since people have been farming for such a long time, nearly all crops grown today have been genetically improved, whether through domestication, selective breeding, hybridization, radiation or chemicals, or changes made directly to plant genes by humans.

Scientists and growers continue to improve methods for making crops with certain traits. For example, people are working to create crops that can better withstand droughts, which are becoming more common as the climate changes.

A version of this article was posted at National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and is used here with permission. Find the National Academies of Sciences on Twitter @theNASciences

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BCPC’s GM/Biotech Crops Report – April 2022

5th April 2022

  • GM/Biotech Crops Monthly Reports (BELOW) form part of BCPC’s free three-tier Biotech Crops Info service.
  • This service also includes a weekly round-up of news from around the globe – see BCPC Newslink GM Crops section.
  • Plus – Free access database on over 300 GM/biotech products covering 23 crops in the global market visit BCPC’s GM/Biotech Crops Manual – Register here for free access.
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GM/Biotech Crops Monthly Report April 2022

Lettuce in space

Astronauts that spend a long time in space can suffer from a loss of bone density due to the reduced gravity but now a team at the University of California have developed a genetically-modified lettuce that produces a drug that can offset this loss and that can be grown in space to provide the astronauts with fresh green leaves to eat. Pic: Mel Edwards. Full Story.

Antibiotics on crops

While Europe bans neonicotinoids to ensure no harmful effects to bees, America is spraying apple and pear orchards with streptomycin to control the bacterial disease fire blight. A study has shown that bees exposed to the streptomycin are less active and collect less pollen than those that are not exposed to the antibiotic.
Full Story.

An elixir of youth

Some people try blood transfusions from young people to recapture that youthful zest for life and now a study has produced some evidence supporting that hope. Young mice blood contains packets of chemicals (extracellular vesicles) budded off from dividing cells that, when injected in to old mice, restores grip strength, stamina and motor coordination. Sadly the effect wears off after a couple of months but another injection can restore it.
Full story

BT maize resistant to stem borer attack

An evaluation of BT maize in Uganda has confirmed a reduction of leaf damage and stem attack that has led to yield increases of 30 – 80%.
Full Story.

Salt-tolerant cotton

A relative of Arabidopsis has yielded a trait that can be used to confer salt tolerance to cotton which could allow the crop to be grown on more land but could also boost yields in areas where it is already grown.
Full Story

Herbicide-tolerant tomatoes

Scientists in Korea have used gene editing to alter three enzymes in tomatoes. The benefits of changes to PDS and EPSPS enzymes are unclear but the changes to the ALS enzyme can confer tolerance of ALS herbicides similar to the naturally-occurring tolerance recently introduced in sugar beet.
Full Story

Potato genome decoded

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute and the Ludwig Maximillian University have decoded the entire genome of potatoes and this knowledge is to be used to develop improved varieties for future cropping. The following link takes you to the German text which can be translated by computer.
Full Story

Gene expression imbalance boosts wheat yields

Researchers at Kansas University have found that varying the expression of various genes in wheat can affect the grain size and final yields. This knowledge can possibly be used to optimise yields of new varieties.
Full Story

Control of Fall Army Worm

Pilot studies in Brazil have shown that release of Oxitec’s ‘Friendly’ male army worms can reduce the populations of army worms due to the males carrying a male only trait and that this reduction will help to protect the Bt maize that is grown there from resistance developing in the wild population. It is very target specific and has no effect on other species such as bees.
Full Story

USDA approved gene-edited cattle

The USDA has decided that gene-edited beef cattle that have shorter hair than unedited cattle pose no safety concerns and can be marketed without waiting for a specific approval:
Full Story

Europe approves transgenic maize with stacked traits

The EFSA finds no safety concerns in GM maize with stacked traits for insect resistance and tolerance of glyphosate and glufosinate. This permits the import of these crops but it still does not allow them to be grown in Europe.
Full Story

Stripe rust resistance in wheat

An international team has identified the specific gene that confers resistance to stripe rust in the African bread wheat variety ‘Kariega’ and now this trait can be transferred to other varieties.
Full Story

Gene-silencing for weed control

Colorado University has developed a spray that contains antisense oligonucleotides that penetrate the leaves of the weed Palmer amaranth and silence essential genes in the weed. Palmer amaranth has developed resistance to a number of herbicides but this spray is specific to this weed and has no effect on the crop or non-target organisms.
Full Story

Nutritional Impact of regenerative farming

The University of Washington has compared crops grown on land under regenerative farming management with crops grown on adjacent conventionally farmed land and has shown that the regenerative farming crops have higher levels of vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals. They don’t give any comparison of the yields achieved though and perhaps the higher levels of vitamins etc are simply due to them being distributed through lower yielding crops.
Full Story

Transgenic sugarcane

Sugarcane with overexpressed sucrose-phosphate synthase has been trialled in Indonesia has shown increased tiller number, height and yield than conventional varieties without affecting bacterial diversity or gene horizontal flow in the soil.
Full Story

Potato virus Y resistance

Researchers in Iran have used gene-silencing techniques to develop potatoes that exhibit resistance to potato Y virus.
Full Story

GM barley trials in the UK

Fertiliser prices have gone through the roof and NIAB in conjunction with Cambridge University at the Crop Science Centre are to trial gene modified and gene edited lines of barley to see if they can improve the nitrogen and phosphorus uptake of the plants and make them less reliant on applied fertilisers. If successful on barley, it could be rolled out to other crops.
Full Story

Palm oil replacement

Palm oil is widely used in many products but the proliferation of palm plantations is responsible for a lot of habitat loss throughout the world. Now a team at Nanyang technological University in Singapore have developed a technique for producing the oil from common microalgae.
Full Story

Corn borer resistant maize

Zhejiang University in China has developed a genetically modified maize that has insect resistant traits and a 5 year study has shown it can give up to 96% reduction in corn borer damage and a 6 – 10% yield increase over conventional varieties.
Full Story

THE LATEST ADDITIONS TO THE  GM/BIOTECH DATABASE ARE:

The latest approvals of biotech crops to report this month:

• GMB151 – soybean tolerant of isoxaflutole herbicide approved for food use in Canada and for environmental use in America

FOR INSTANT ACCESS TO GM BIOTECH MANUAL CLICK HERE (Registration required)

Already Registered? Click here to access

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South Africa should rethink regulations on genetically modified plants

February 15, 2022 9.12am EST

Authors

  1. James R LloydAssociate Professor, Stellenbosch University
  2. Dave BergerProfessor in Molecular Plant Pathology, University of Pretoria
  3. Priyen PillaySenior Researcher, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research

Disclosure statement

James R Lloyd receives funding from the National Research Foundation, South Africa.

Dave Berger receives funding from the National Research Foundation, South Africa and The Maize Trust, South Africa.

Dr Priyen Pillay receives funding from the National Research Foundation, South Africa and the Department of Science & Innovation, South Africa.

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Several small potatoes, still attached to their leaves and newly pulled from the dirt
New technologies can bolster the production of important crops to feed billions of people. Shutterstock

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Food security is a global priority – and it is becoming more urgent in the face of climate change, which is already affecting crop productivity. One way to improve food security is to increase crop yields.

But this is not easy. Research has shown that in the past two decades plant breeders have been unable to increase yields of staple crops at the rate at which the world’s population is growing.

New technologies are needed to achieve this rate. Over the past decade several novel technologies have been developed. These are known as New Breeding Techniques and have the potential to hugely help in growing efforts.

Genome editing is one such technique. It allows the precise editing of genomes – that is, the genetic information an organism contains. Scientists worldwide have embraced the technology. And countries that adopted New Breeding Techniques early have seen a significant increase in the development of locally relevant products. Current crops under development include ones resistant to specific diseases and insect pests, that are healthier to eat or which are tolerant of drought or heat stress.

How The Conversation is different: All our authors are experts.

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Both small, micro and medium enterprises and the public sector in these countries have been involved in developing and using genome edited crops. This should translate to improved economic growth and employment opportunities.


Read more: What is CRISPR, the gene editing technology that won the Chemistry Nobel prize?


Whatever approach a country chooses, it must be underpinned by regulation. This ensures a framework for the introduction of new products that benefit consumers and stimulate the bio-economy in a sustainable manner.

South Africa’s authorities have taken what we think is an unfortunate approach to regulating genome-edited plants. In October 2021 the government classified genome-edited plants as genetically modified crops. This is based on its interpretation of the definition of a genetically modified organism in a 25-year-old piece of legislation rather than on recent science-based risk analysis considerations.

As experts in plant biotechnology we fear that this regulatory approach will greatly inhibit the development of improved crops for South African farmers. It will place an unnecessary regulatory burden on bio-innovators. This will discourage local investment for in-house research and development, as well as projects in the public sector. Local entrepreneurs who aim to enhance local crops’ climate resilience or to develop speciality products for niche markets through genome editing will be thwarted by the need to raise disproportionate funding to fulfil current regulations.

A technological timeline

Crop plants are improved by generating genetic variation that leads to beneficial traits. Plant breeders traditionally achieved this by crossing different varieties of the same plant species. These approaches alter many genes; the result is that traditionally-bred plants contain both advantageous and deleterious traits. Removing disadvantageous traits before the crop can be commercialised is a costly, time-consuming process.

In the 1980s, transgenic genetic modification technologies were developed. These rely on pieces of DNA from one species being integrated into the genome of a crop. Such genetically modified (GM) plants are highly regulated internationally. In South Africa the legislation governing these plants came into force in 1999. The use of GM technology in South Africa – and other countries – has been highly successful.

For example, it has led to South Africa doubling maize productivity, making it a net exporter of this commodity. This contributes to food security and also generates foreign income, which reduces the country’s trade deficit.

But the regulations governing GM plants are onerous: only large agricultural biotechnology companies have the resources to commercialise them. This is done to the eliminate risk that GM plants containing new DNA are harmful for health or to the environment.

Because of this, all GM plants licensed for commercial use in South Africa come from a small number of international companies. Not a single locally developed product has been commercialised during the past three decades, despite South Africa being an early adopter of the technology. This hampers the development of novel crops and the improvement of traditional crops, especially for emerging and subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.

That’s why newer tools like genome editing are so exciting. They can be used to introduce genetic variation for crop improvement in a fraction of the time it would take using conventional methods. Some forms of genome editing are transgenic in nature, while others aren’t because they don’t involve the insertion of foreign DNA into a plant.

This approach mimics the effect of traditional plant breeding, but in a highly targeted manner so that only advantageous traits are introduced. For example, genome editing is being used to produce peanuts, soybean and wheat that do not produce allergens.

It’s working well. Despite the technology only being available for a decade, some crops produced using genome editing are already on the market in some countries, including soybean and tomatoes which are healthier for human consumption.

A proposed regulatory approach

Regulatory authorities around the world have taken either a process- or a product-based approach to regulating GM crop safety. A process-based approach examines how the crop was produced; a product-based approach examines the risks and benefits of the GM crop on a case-by-case basis.

We believe that a product-based approach makes most sense. This is because a process-based approach could lead to the strange situation where two identical plants are governed by very different regulations, just because they were produced by different methods. The added regulatory burden imposed by this approach will also hamper innovation in developing new crops.

Our approach would mean that any plant with extra DNA inserted into the genome would be governed as a GM plant. Plants with no extra DNA added and that are indistinguishable from conventionally bred organisms should be regulated like a conventionally produced crop.

This is the most rational way to regulate these different types of organisms, as it adheres to the principles of science-based risk analysis and good governance.

Many countries, among them ArgentinaChinaJapanthe USAustraliaBrazil and Nigeria, have taken this approach.

Science-based risk analysis should return to the heart of regulation: concrete risk thresholds should define regulatory triggers.

T

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Genetic strategy reverses insecticide resistance

Date: January 14, 2022Source: University of California – San Diego Summary: Using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, scientists have genetically engineered a method to reverse insecticide resistance. The gene replacement method offers a new way to fight deadly malaria spread and reduce the use of pesticides that protect valuable food crops.Share: FULL STORY


Insecticides play a central role in efforts to counter global impacts of mosquito-spread malaria and other diseases, which cause an estimated 750,000 deaths each year. These insect-specific chemicals, which cost more than $100 million to develop and bring to market, also are critical to controlling insect-driven crop damage that poses a challenge to food security.

But in recent decades many insects have genetically adapted to become less sensitive to the potency of insecticides. In Africa, where long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor spraying are major weapons in the fight against malaria, many species of mosquitoes across the continent have developed insecticide resistance that reduces the efficacy of these key interventions. In certain areas climate change is expected to exacerbate these problems.

University of California San Diego biologists have now developed a method that reverses insecticide resistance using CRISPR/Cas9 technology. As described in Nature Communications, researchers Bhagyashree Kaduskar, Raja Kushwah and Professor Ethan Bier with the Tata Institute for Genetics and Society (TIGS) and their colleagues used the genetic editing tool to replace an insecticide-resistant gene in fruit flies with the normal insecticide-susceptible form, an achievement that could significantly reduce the amount of insecticides used.

“This technology also could be used to increase the proportion of a naturally occurring genetic variant in mosquitoes that renders them refractory to transmission or malarial parasites,” said Bier, a professor of Cell and Developmental Biology in UC San Diego’s Division of Biological Sciences and senior author of the paper.

The researchers used a modified type of gene-drive, a technology that uses CRISPR/Cas9 to cut genomes at targeted sites, to spread specific genes throughout a population. As one parent transmits genetic elements to their offspring, the Cas9 protein cuts the chromosome from the other parent at the corresponding site and the genetic information is copied into that location so that all offspring inherit the genetic trait. The new gene-drive includes an add-on that Bier and his colleagues previously engineered to bias the inheritance of simple genetic variants (also known as alleles) by also at the same time cutting an undesired genetic variant (e.g., insecticide resistant) and replacing it with the preferred variant (e.g., insecticide susceptible).

In the new study, the researchers employed this “allelic drive” strategy to restore genetic susceptibility to insecticides, similar to insects in the wild prior to their having developed resistance. They focused on an insect protein known as the voltage-gated sodium channel (VGSC) which is a target for a widely used class of insecticides. Resistance to these insecticides, often called the knockdown resistance, or “kdr,” results from mutations in the vgsc gene that no longer permit the insecticide to bind to its VGSC protein target. The authors replaced a resistant kdr mutation with its normal natural counterpart that is susceptible to insecticides.

Starting with a population consisting of 83% kdr (resistant) alleles and 17% normal alleles (insecticide susceptible), the allelic drive system inverted that proportion to 13% resistant and 87% wild-type in 10 generations. Bier also notes that adaptions conferring insecticide resistance come with an evolutionary cost, making those insects less fit in a Darwinian sense. Thus pairing the gene drive with the selective advantage of the more fit wild-type genetic variant results in a highly efficient and cooperative system, he says.

Similar allelic drive systems could be developed in other insects, including mosquitoes. This proof-of-principle adds a new method to pest- and vector-control toolboxes since it could be used in combination with other strategies to improve insecticide-based or parasite-reducing measures to drive down the spread of malaria.

“Through these allelic replacement strategies, it should be possible to achieve the same degree of pest control with far less application of insecticides,” said Bier. “It also should be possible to design self-eliminating versions of allelic drives that are programmed to act only transiently in a population to increase the relative frequency of a desired allele and then disappear. Such locally acting allelic drives could be reapplied as necessary to increase the abundance of a naturally occurring preferred trait with the ultimate endpoint being no GMO left in the environment.”

“An exciting possibility is to use allelic drives to introduce novel versions of the VGSC that are even more sensitive to insecticides than wild-type VGSCs,” suggested Craig Montell (UC Santa Barbara), a co-author on this study. “This could potentially allow even lower levels of insecticides to be introduced into the environment to control pests and disease vectors.”

The study’s authors are: Bhagyashree Kaduskar (UC San Diego and Tata Institute for Genetics and Society), Raja Babu Singh Kushwah (UC San Diego and Tata Institute for Genetics and Society), Ankush Auradkar (UC San Diego), Annabel Guichard (UC San Diego and Tata Institute for Genetics and Society), Menglin Li (UC Santa Barbara), Jared Bennett (UC Berkeley), Alison Henrique Ferreira Julio, John Marshall (UC Berkeley), Craig Montell (UC Santa Barbara) and Ethan Bier (UC San Diego and Tata Institute for Genetics and Society).


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of California – San Diego. Original written by Mario Aguilera. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Bhagyashree Kaduskar, Raja Babu Singh Kushwah, Ankush Auradkar, Annabel Guichard, Menglin Li, Jared B. Bennett, Alison Henrique Ferreira Julio, John M. Marshall, Craig Montell, Ethan Bier. Reversing insecticide resistance with allelic-drive in Drosophila melanogasterNature Communications, 2022; 13 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-27654-1

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Viewpoint: How Bangladesh can use genetic engineering to improve food security

Asma Binti HafizSumon Chandra Shell | Academia | January 10, 2022

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Bt infused eggplants, 'brinjal' are a critical crop for Bangladesh. Credit: Arif Hossain
Bt infused eggplants, ‘brinjal’ are a critical crop for Bangladesh. Credit: Arif Hossain

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation. It is posted under Fair Use guidelines.

Bangladesh has declared self-sufficiency in food in 2013 with a population of 150 million and continued to maintain the status up till this date as the population has increased by another twenty million. Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.SIGN UP

Genetic Engineering is a vital tool for Bangladesh to secure food in its true sense by meeting food needs, reducing poverty, and enhancing environmental sustainability. But, awareness and extent of knowledge and perception on genetic engineering, biotechnology, and GMOs among the people, and especially the producers, are relatively low (Nasiruddin). Here, media, agricultural universities and research institutions, NGOs, political agenda, government policies, and religious bodies have played vital roles in representing Genetic Engineering in food security.For example, bt brinjal, a GMO of Bangladesh, yields 42% higher than the local varieties and reduces 47% of the cost of applying pesticides (Ahmed et al.). But only 17% of the country’s brinjal farmers have adopted this GMO crop (The Wire)

Genetic Engineering has the potential to turn the jolty terrain of food access in Bangladesh into a plane field with sufficient, nutritious, less expensive, and equally distributed food for all the country’s people to meet their dietary needs.

This is an excerpt. Read the original post here.

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China’s GM corn, soybean earn safety approval after pilot program

The project found that GM soybean can increase yields by 12 percent, while GM corn can see yield increases of 6.7 to 10.7 percent.

Zhao Yimeng

Zhao Yimeng

China Daily

61de3230e4b013b65bf05c05.jpg

Soybeans are harvested in Northeast China’s Heilongjiang province. [Photo/Xinhua]

 January 13, 2022

BEIJING – Genetically modified corn and soybean involved in a pilot program have obtained safety certificates for production and application after an assessment of food and environmental safety that lasted nearly 10 years.

“The application of traits that resist pests and tolerate herbicides and drought has improved the competitiveness of genetically modified crops, such as corn and soybean, in production cost, price and quality,” Qian Qian, director of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences’ Institute of Crop Sciences, said in an interview with Xinhua News Agency.

Li Xiangju, a researcher at the academy’s Institute of Plant Protection, said the results of the pilot program show that the GM soybean varieties perform better as only one spray of herbicide can achieve over 95 percent of the weeding for those varieties.

The effect of GM corn varieties on the fall army worm, a major threat to crops, reached 85 to 95 percent without the use of pesticides, Li said.

The pilot project found that GM soybean can reduce weeding costs by 50 percent and increase yields by 12 percent, while GM corn can see yield increases of 6.7 to 10.7 percent.

Liu Biao, a researcher at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment’s Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences, said the GM corn and soybean in the pilot program had no negative effects on beneficial insects and soil quality.

“The decreased use of pesticides on GM corn boosts ecological and environmental safety,” Liu said, adding that using the same herbicide on GM soybean and corn can help intercropping and rotation of the two crops.

Last year, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs launched pilot industrialization projects for genetically modified soybean and corn.

Liu Peilei, an official with the ministry, said the achievements in the pilot program mark China’s move into the industrialization of GM corn and soybean.

“Promoting the industrialization of GM corn and soybean will break the bottleneck of agricultural production,” Liu said at a news conference last month.

Liu said the GM soybean and corn have excellent traits and can compete with similar overseas products. Four GM corn varieties and three GM soybean varieties have obtained safety certificates for production and application.

Xie Daoxin, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a professor at Tsinghua University, said that since the first commercial planting of genetically modified crops in 1996, the area planted with them globally has increased to 190 million hectares.

The types of GM crops have expanded to 32 species including potatoes, eggplants and apples. In 2019, 74 percent of soybeans, 31 percent of corn, and 79 percent of cotton grown around the world were genetically modified, Xie told Xinhua.

GM crops are currently grown commercially in 71 countries and regions.

Huang Jikun, also an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a professor at Peking University, said the United States, Brazil and Argentina are the top three countries in terms of planting areas of GM crops.

China produced 19.6 million metric tons of soybean last year while importing 100.3 million tons, according to the General Administration of Customs.

Cao Xiaofeng, another academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the competition for genetic resources is becoming increasingly fierce.

“Countries and multinational companies are ramping up efforts to carry out research and development of gene function and genetic diversity while utilizing the crops,” Cao said.

“New biological breeding technologies keep developing.”

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Status of Gene Editing Use in Public Canadian Crop Breeding

In Spring 2021, Health Canada released proposed new guidance for the Novel Food Regulations, specifically focused on plant breeding, and conducted an open consultation seeking feedback from both industry stakeholders and general Canadian public. This move reflects the government’s intent to establish a predictable commercialization pathway in preparation for new products that are developed using new plant breeding techniques, more specifically, “gene editing” (GEd) techniques.

PETER W.B. PHILLIPS, CSIP DIRECTOR AND JSGS DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR; DIEGO MAXIMILIANO MACALL, RESEARCH ASSISTANT, CSIP; AND SIMONA LUBIENIECHI, PROFESSIONAL RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, CSIP (Center for Study of Science and Innovation Policy)
Nov 17, 2021

In Spring 2021, Health Canada released proposed new guidance for the Novel Food Regulations, specifically focused on plant breeding, and conducted an open consultation seeking feedback from both industry stakeholders and general Canadian public.  This move reflects the government’s intent to establish a predictable commercialization pathway in preparation for new products that are developed using new plant breeding techniques, more specifically, “gene editing” (GEd) techniques. 

Crop breeders have been using genetic improvement technologies for decades, picking up tools that enhance their ability to effect change as they see a fit in their programme.  Many tools have been developed to assist plant breeders in developing new cultivars that deliver higher yields, are more resistant to biotic and abiotic stresses, and are better adapted to changing environmental conditions.  Most recently, the Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats method (CRISPR/Cas9) of GEd has been touted to have great promise due to its immense versatility and the relative ease with which it can be used.  While policymakers are reviewing laws and regulations to anticipate an “imminent” shift towards the use of these kinds of technologies, our research showed that the CRISPR/Cas9 technology is yet to be widely adopted by public crop breeding programs in Canada. This policy brief explores the reasons behind the slow uptake and presents policy recommendations that could enable breeders to make GEd tools part of their ‘toolbox,’ should they choose to make use of them.

Environmental Scan

We screened the peer-reviewed and public access publications of public Canadian crop breeders for evidence of GEd use and found only two instances of CRISPR/Cas9 proof-of-concept applications. This finding seems inconsistent with the findings of a recent survey by Gleim et al. 2020 [1], which shows that both public and private Canadian crop breeders are aware of and knowledgeable about CRISPR/Cas9. Therefore, to get a better understanding of the status of GEd use by public breeding programs in Canada, we interviewed crop breeders from six Canadian universities.  Some crop breeders we interviewed reported using CRISPR/Cas9 in their research activities but not in their breeding programs. No other GEd technique was reported as being used among public Canadian crop breeders at this time. CRISPR/Cas9 use remains low for several reasons.  

First, asked directly about the existence of barriers (internal or external) to the use of GEd at their host institution, few could identify any specific barriers. It is noteworthy that a significant number of breeders admitted that they were not knowledgeable about the specific rules of their host institution regarding the use of GEd tools.

Second, a concern of most breeders was that even if they successfully developed a trait through GEd, they might not be able to navigate Canada’s regulatory regime in order to bring the resulting crop to market. This uncertainty makes breeders apprehensive about using GEd in their breeding programmes.

Third, pressed on their lack of use of novel crop breeding technologies, a significant number of breeders noted that consumer perceptions were an important factor in their decision about whether to use a new technology in their breeding program. Many breeders asserted that they would not use GEd technologies yet because consumer opinions about these remain largely unknown. One breeder suggested that given that there is no difference between a trait developed through certain GEd techniques or conventionally derived traits at a whole-genome level, reporting on GEd applications might not be strictly necessary in Canada.  Meanwhile, critics that are against Health Canada’s recent Novel Food Regulations revision proposal are quick to tie GEd with genetically modified food [2].    

Fourth, some respondents asserted that while GEd could be powerful tools, they are not necessarily the appropriate tool for every crop breeding objective. In fact, for some crops (e.g., lentils and sunflower), GEd and CRISPR/Cas9 specifically, are not viable tools because of the biological complexity underpinning their most important traits and additional laboratory steps to which they are recalcitrant. In addition to these concerns, all crop breeders emphasized that to be able to use GEd appropriately a thorough understanding of the plant’s genome is needed. Functional genomics is the field that concerns itself with understanding the relationship between the information contained in an organism’s genome and its physical characteristics [3]. This field was born 20 years ago when the human genome was first sequenced; it then became clear that the next step in biology was to understand the function of genes [4]. Twenty years on, moving from phenotype (traits) to genotype (genetic base) remains difficult because the biological mechanism that translates between them has yet to be fully understood, especially for crops with more complex genomes – for example, lentils and sunflower.

Who owns CRISPR/Cas9 in Canada?

Beyond these issues, the use and application of GEd in Canada trips over questions of intellectual property. Specifically, ownership of CRISPR/Cas9 technology has not yet been established in Canada [5]. While over 3,400 patents and pending patent applications refer to CRISPR/Cas9, there are three competing claims over the foundational technology open in Canada (Table 1). To commercialize technologies that use CRISPR/Cas9 in Canada, licenses to the foundational patents and particular applications would be needed [6]. But from whom? While basic research or proof-of-concept studies often proceed without license, if they generate new traits of value they could be subject to retroactive licensing once patents are issued, which could significantly reduce the bargaining power of the inventor. For that reason, many researchers and crop breeders could understandably avoid using the technology.

Table 1. Parties Claiming CRISPR system ownership in Canada

Patent ApplicationTitleInventorsApplicantPCT Filing Date
CA3081937Type V Crispr/Cas Effector Proteins For Cleaving Ssdnas And Detecting Target DnasDoudna, Jennifer A.
Chen, Janice S.
Harrington, Lucas Benjamin Ma, Enbo
The Regents of the University of California (United States of America)2018-11-20
CA2930877CRISPR-CAS System Materials and MethodsCharpentier, Emmanuelle
Chylinski, Krzysztof
Fonfara, Ines
CRISPR Therapeutics AG2014-11-17
CA 2932439CRISPR-CAS Systems and Methods For Altering Expression Of Gene Products, Structural Information And Inducible Modular Cas EnzymesZhang, Feng
Zetsche, Bernd
The Broad Institute & the Massachusetts Institute of Technology2014-12-12
Source: CIPO [4]
Notes: All three parties have filed a patent claim with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). As per current regulations, ‘CRISPR Therapeutics AG’ requested their application be ‘examined’ five years after their initial submission on 2019-11-18. It is now up to CIPO to consider the merit of their claim.

Summary

The decision of whether or not to use GEd technologies is but one factor in a complex interplay of decisions a crop breeder makes. The decision to use these tools ultimately come down to: (1) whether it is the most appropriate tool for the task at hand (not always a biotechnology tool), (2) whether consumers and the market would accept the product resulting from the application of the tool they choose, followed by (3) whether there is a pathway through regulations to the market. No breeder mentioned the legal aspects surrounding the use of CRISPR/Cas9 specifically, but these are important issues that need clarification if these tools are to be employed to their fullest potential. Conceptually, the order of each aspect, from most important to least as considered by most Canadian public crop breeders can be listed as:

  1. Fitness of the technology to the crop and task at hand;
  2. Market acceptance;
  3. Regulatory hurdles; and
  4. Legal issues of GEd applications.

Above all, GEd use comes down to whether they are the right tools (cheapest and fastest) to achieve a crop breeder’s objectives.

How can public policy help?

We recommend the following actions to ensure that GEd can be available to Canadian public crop breeders. 

  • First, the legal issues surrounding CRISPR/Cas9 need to be clarified. Doing so could serve as precedent for other GEd techniques and technologies.
  • Second, more research (and therefore, more funding) is needed to understand the function of genes in relation to traits (functional genomics). This deficit in knowledge is a serious constraint to using GEd in the public crop breeding sector, particularly because many of the crops under development have complex genomes that are understudied.   
  • Lastly, Canadian public crop breeders signal that they would benefit from greater insight into Canadian and foreign buyer’s perceptions and willingness to accept of GEd products. Directed research on preferences in key markets could benefit Canadian public crop breeding programs both specifically and more generally, as this information would help breeders develop new and more accurate research and breeding objectives.

Works Cited

  1. Gleim, S., S. Lubieniechi, and S.J. Smyth, CRISPR-Cas9 Application in Canadian Public and Private Plant Breeding. The CRISPR Journal, 2020. 3(1): p. 44-51.
  2. Canadian biotechnology Action Network (cban). No Regulatory Exemptions. 2021; Available from: https://cban.ca/take-action/no-exemptions/.
  3. National Academies of Sciences, E. and Medicine, Next steps for functional genomics: proceedings of a workshop. 2020: National Academies Press.
  4. Function, A focus on function. Nature Genetics, 2000. 25(3): p. 243-244.
  5. CIPO. Canadian Patents Database. 2021; Available from: https://www.ic.gc.ca/opic-cipo/cpd/eng/search/basic.html.
  6. Lipkus, N. The nascent CRISPR-Cas9 patent landscape in Canada. 2018 [cited 2021; Available from: https://www.osler.com/en/resources/regulations/2018/the-nascent-crispr-cas9-patent-landscape-in-canada.

Dr. Peter W.B. Phillips (PhD)

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Dr. Peter W.B. Phillips is the director of the Centre for the Study of Science and Innovation, and a distinguished professor in the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy’s University of Saskatchewan campus.

He earned his Ph.D. at the LSE and practiced for 13 years as a professional economist in industry and government. At the University of Saskatchewan, he was the Van Vliet Research Professor, created and held an NSERC SSHRC Chair in Managing Technological Change in Agriculture, and was director of the virtual College of Biotechnology.

He has had appointments at the LSE, OECD, European University Institute in Florence, University of Edinburgh and University of Western Australia. He was a founding member of the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee and was on the boards of Canadian Agri-food Policy Institute, Pharmalytics and Ag-West Bio Inc. He has also held over 15 peer-reviewed grants worth more then $250 million and is author/editor of 15 books, and over 60 journal articles and 55 book chapters.

Diego Macall

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Diego Macall obtained his undergraduate degree in Agricultural Engineering from the Catholic University of El Salvador. He specialized in coffee production and processing, but also volunteered regularly to help implement rural development projects in impoverished villages and towns throughout the entire country. Seeing up close the socio-economic realities that afflicted a great segment of the Salvadoran population, inspired him to pursue graduate studies in agricultural policy. In 2014, Diego was accepted into the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics master’s programme. Upon obtaining his degree, Diego worked briefly as a market analyst in the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service Office in São Paulo, Brazil. Diego returned to USASK in 2017 as Dr. Stuart Smyth’s research assistant, since then, he has co-authored numerous papers and blogs about agricultural biotechnology. Since October 2020, he has been assisting Dr. Peter WB Phillips with certain components of the EVOLVES project.

Dr. Simona Lubieniechi (PhD)

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Dr. Simona Lubieniechi is a Professional Research Associate in the Johnson Shoyama School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada. In 2011 she completed her PhD studies in agricultural economics. Her current research interests include behavioural economics, in particular prospect theory and its extension to framing effects and overconfidence. For the past few years Simona has been working on plant breeders’ decision-making processes and innovation adoption.

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Opinion: African farmers can benefit from co-existence of agroecology and biotechnology

Pacifique Nshimiyimana | Cornell Alliance for Science | November 17, 2021

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Credit: GreenBiz
Credit: GreenBiz

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation. It is posted under Fair Use guidelines.Can agroecology coexist with modern agricultural technologies? What is the reason for the fight against genetically modified (GM) cowpea or Golden Rice when the world’s most pressing food systems challenge is nutritional and food insecurity?

As the global community marked this year’s World Food Day on Oct. 16, where do African countries stand in respect to food and nutrition security? Is Europe’s antagonism toward certain food production systems and embrace of various ideologies going to expand to Africa too?

As the numbers of communities experiencing food insecurity rise, why are we still supporting divisions in the food system when we need to unite in the critical mission of stopping hunger and extreme poverty among our African population?Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.SIGN UP

In my country of Rwanda, the level of malnutrition and hunger leading to stunting among children under the age of five is still alarming, and it’s a scenario that is repeated in many African nations and other developing world countries. Due to the food production challenge, in Sub-Saharan Africa alone 34 percent of children under age 5 are stunted, leading to future generations of people who are mentally and physically impaired and more prone to disease.

In an effort to avoid replicating the mistakes of Western countries, where agroecologists often take hostile and antagonistic stances towards modern biotechnology and the green revolution, African countries are urged to separate themselves from such division for the sake of ending extreme hunger and poverty and meeting the United Nation’s 2030 goal of zero hunger.

African policymakers and world food system leaders are also urged to implement measures that will help African farmers benefit from both agroecology and modern biotechnology. The situation of food production in Africa is so fragile that African smallholder farmers and their communities can’t afford any more divisions in their food systems due to the agroecology movement’s antagonism towards modern biotechnology.

The COVID-19 pandemic and various farming-related plant diseases and insect challenges, like the locust swarms in East Africa, threaten the livelihood of millions. Resilient biotechnology crops that offer protection, like Nigeria’s insect-resistant and drought-tolerant TELA maize and insect-resistant GM cowpea, solve problems and economically empower farmers and rural communities. They should not be subjected to the western style of agroecology hatred towards biotechnology.

“The climate crisis demands that we innovate and give farmers in every country diverse tool kits. Agroecology and biotechnology can co-exist and be mutually supportive,” stated Matt Murray, acting assistant secretary for Economic and Business Affairs in the United States Department of State Department, while speaking at the 2021 World Food Prize.https://www.youtube.com/embed/e8h4F467vgs

Achieving coexistence between agroecology and modern biotechnology in African farming communities will be the turning point in promoting food security on the continent. It will also economically rejuvenate Africa’s large and small producers, who will finally enjoy the freedom of choice over what they produce and how they protect and manage their farming investments.

At a time when an increasing number of African countries are making wise decisions about adopting biotech crops that offer their farmers greater resilience in managing the effects of climate change, it is important to highlight their importance to the livelihoods of small producers.

The reduction of pesticide use that has accompanied the adoption of GM cotton in Kenya and GM cowpea in Nigeria, where the recent approval of TELA maize will also cut insecticide use, helps small farmers with limited means lower their production costs. But even importantly, it reduces the harmful impacts of excessive pesticides on both the environment and the lives of peasant farmers who typically apply these products without any personal protection equipment to guard their health.

This is but one area where agroecology and biotechnology have shared goals. We must now focus on other common goals and values to support, rather than divide, Africa’s farmers.

Pacifique Nshimiyimana is a social entrepreneur and founder of “Real Green Gold Ltd.” He has a graduate degree in Biotechnology from the University of Rwanda.

A version of this article was originally posted at the Cornell Alliance for Science and has been reposted here with permission. The Cornell Alliance for Science can be found on Twitter @ScienceAlly 

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Biotech, gene editing will be key to addressing agriculture’s future challenges

Members of the two subcommittees holding the hearing appeared to support the use of biotech, and gene editing in particular, to develop new plants and animals resistant to disease and able to help farming adapt to climate change.Written By: Sara Wyant | 5:30 am, Nov. 6, 2021

The label for bioengineered foods in the U.S. 
USDA

The label for bioengineered foods in the U.S. USDA

In the coming decades, U.S. farmers and ranchers will be challenged to produce more output with fewer inputs, feeding a growing global population while dealing with a wide variety of weather and environmental risks.

For some, those challenges seem almost unsurmountable, but others see that many of the tools are already within our reach and just need investment and regulatory clarity.

“Through opening trade, investing in research, and streamlining our regulatory system we can help facilitate the use of biotechnology to address threats like food scarcity and climate change,” Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., chairman of the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture, said during a recent hearing. That subcommittee held the hearing together with the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research.

Members of the two subcommittees holding the hearing appeared to support the use of biotech, and gene editing in particular, to develop new plants and animals resistant to disease and able to help farming adapt to climate change.

Plant breeding is not new; rather it dates back thousands of years to when people first domesticated wild plant varieties, noted Fan-Li Chou, the American Seed Trade Association’s vice president for scientific affairs and policy in her written testimony.https://6966d91f35a2d4dde45660d0a1ef325d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“Over time, plant breeders have accumulated an impressive collection of tools, such as cross breeding, selection, hybridization, induced mutagenesis, biotechnology and molecular markers to unlock the genetic potential of plant crops. Using these breeding tools, the plant breeding community, both the public and private sides, have safely and reliably introduced to the food system hundreds of thousands of new plant varieties over the past century,” she added.

New varieties developed from plant breeding allow farmers to produce more using fewer inputs. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service’s report on Agricultural Productivity in the U.S., since 1948, domestic agriculture productivity nearly tripled.

While some of the gains can be attributed to better management practices, Chou said some experts estimate that improved varieties account for more than a 50% productivity gain

To be commercially released, Chou said new plant varieties, regardless of the breeding tools used, are subjected to strict, multiyear, multi-location evaluation and assessment for quality and performance.

But sometimes, regulatory systems don’t match up well with the rapid pace of innovation.

One of the issues uniting the witnesses and many of the committee members is the current regulatory structure for making intentional genomic changes in animals. Like changes in plant breeding, the livestock industry has been making improvements in animals for decades.

For example, in pigs, the feed conversion ratio — the amount of food needed to build bodyweight (pounds of feed/ pounds of edible protein at slaughter) — has fallen 58% since 1970, resulting in over 1.5 times a pig’s body weight in feed being saved, noted Elena Rice, chief scientific officer at animal biotech firm Genus PLC in her written testimony.

“In the dairy industry, over a 40-year period, 13% fewer cows are producing 76% more milk — another massive improvement in the sustainability of protein production. While improved genetics is not responsible for all of this staggering improvement, genetics has been the major driver. Based on industry studies and our own analysis, we estimate 50-60% of the improvement has been driven by better genetics,” Rice said.

However, many argue that the process for reviewing gene editing improvements for animals is very outdated. The Food and Drug Administration reviews such changes as if they were drugs.

“Gene editing approaches are channeled into a regulatory approval process that is not well matched for how the technology alters the genome, is transmitted to subsequent generations, or the intended purposes,” said Jon Oatley, a professor at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

He said he supported a Memorandum of Understanding between the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services released last year that proposed USDA assume authority over genetically engineered animals used for food while FDA, which falls under HHS’ purview, would continue to regulate non-food uses.

But the MOU came at the tail end of the Trump administration, and USDA is now considering comments on the appropriate regulatory structure.

“There are ways in which we have to work collaboratively with our friends at FDA to make sure our regulatory system is able to respond quickly enough and be able to keep pace with the pace of change,” Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Ag Committee in October.

His comments followed a letter from almost two-thirds of the ag committee to Vilsack and acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock that said the “existing regulatory system is not conducive to the timely adoption” of genetic improvements in animals. “In the past 25 years, only two animals intended for agricultural purposes have been approved for use domestically by FDA.”

The letter was signed by — among others — House Ag Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Georgia, Ranking Member Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pennsylvania, Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, chair of the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research, and Rep. Jim Baird, R-Ind., the top Republican on that subcommittee.

Rice, from Genus PLC, said the focus of regulation should be on the end products, not on the technology used to produce them. In other words, if a product made using biotechnology could be created using conventional breeding, it should not be regulated differently.

The hearing featured questions from committee members on how biotechnology and gene editing can address issues such as food waste, nutritional deficits and animal diseases.

Oatley said research is now underway on how to transfer genes from warthogs, which can carry African Swine Fever but show no symptoms, into domestic pigs, which die quickly from ASF.

Jack Bobo, CEO of food consulting firm Futurity, said the U.S. needs to clarify its regulatory process for animal biotech products in order to not fall behind other countries where such products have been approved.

He and Chou both mentioned Japan, which has streamlined its biotech regulations and approved a new GE tomato that helps lower blood pressure.

Witnesses and members also decried Mexico’s stated intention to not import GE corn, as well as China’s foot-dragging on the approval of new biotech traits.

Chou said the U.S. has to enforce the biotech provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and said China will not be able to achieve its strategic goals without use of technology, including gene editing.

Editor’s note: Agri-Pulse Associate Editor Steve Davies contributed to this column. Wyant is president and founder of Agri-Pulse Communications Inc. For more news, go to www.Agri-Pulse.com.

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US companies announce plans for gene-edited strawberries


by KEITH RIDLER | Associated PressThursday, October 28th 2021

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Gene-edited strawberry plants grow in a J.R. Simplot Company greenhouse in Boise, Idaho, on Oct. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler)

Gene-edited strawberry plants grow in a J.R. Simplot Company greenhouse in Boise, Idaho, on Oct. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler)

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho company that successfully brought genetically modified potatoes to the market announced an agreement Thursday to help a California-based plant breeding company grow strawberries they say will stay fresh longer and have a longer growing season.

J.R. Simplot Company and Plant Sciences Inc., both privately-held companies, said they expect to launch the first commercially available, gene-edited strawberries within a few years.

U.S. growers produced $2.2 billion in strawberries in 2020, mostly in California, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But consumers discarded an estimated 35% of the crop due to spoilage. Simplot and Plant Sciences officials said genetically modified strawberries will help reduce waste, and make them available to consumers much of the year.

The strawberries will contain genes from only strawberries, selecting desirable traits that have been cultivated over decades to combine them through gene editing.

“It’s the same technology we’re working on with potatoes,” said Doug Cole, director of Marketing and Biotech Affairs at Simplot. “We have the opportunity to do that with this technology.”

There is no evidence that genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs, are unsafe to eat, but changing the genetic code of foods presents an ethical issue for some. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Food and Drug Administration signed off on Simplot’s genetically-modified potatoes as safe to eat, with over 1.1 billion pounds (500,000 million kilograms) now sold in some 40 states and 4,000 supermarkets and 9,000 restaurants.

Cole said the company submitted information to the Agriculture Department that determined gene editing replicates a natural process and doesn’t need regulatory approval before the strawberries are brought to the market.

Steve Nelson, president and chief executive officer of Plant Sciences Inc., said the company over the last 35 years has developed five distinct breeding populations of strawberries that do best in various growing areas and climate types.

“They possess complex genomes that contribute to long and complex breeding cycles,” Nelson said. “You’ve got to look at large populations of seedlings on an annual basis to make progress with traditional plant breeding.”

Gene editing could speed that up. Nelson said the goal of the partnership with Simplot is to improve the horticultural performance of strawberries, enhance pest and disease tolerance and resistance.

He said for growers, who can spend $35,000 an acre to plant strawberries and another $35,000 per acre to harvest them, gene-edited strawberries could reduce the risk of a crop failure.

Simplot, a multinational agribusiness company with headquarters in Boise, Idaho, in 2018 acquired gene editing licensing rights in an agreement with Corteva Agriscience and the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, developers of a gene-editing technology called CRISPR-Cas9. Simplot was the first agricultural company to receive such a license.

The technology allows scientists to make precise changes to the genome of living organisms and has wide-ranging applications for improving plant food production and quality. It’s been likened to using a search-and-replace function while editing a written document.

The gene-editing technology is called CRISPR-Cas9, the first part an acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.” The technology speeds up the traditional process of breeding generation after generation of plants to get a certain desirable trait, saving years in developing new varieties that are as safe as traditionally developed varieties, scientists say.

Craig Richael, director of research and development at Simplot, said the strawberry genetic code has been mapped, but it’s not clear what traits are associated with all the various parts of the code. He said the company is working with parts of the code that are known, raising genetically modified strawberries at a Simplot greenhouse.

Plant Sciences Inc., headquartered in Watsonville, California, and its affiliates have proprietary rights for more than 50 strawberry and raspberry varieties. The company supplies plants to growers in more than 50 countries.

Simplot and Plant Sciences will make money by selling the genetically modified strawberry plants to growers, who pay a royalty for the rights to grow and sell the strawberries. Terms of the deal weren’t released.

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