The United Kingdom paves the way for the cultivation of genome-edited plants
The British Parliament has passed a law that facilitates the cultivation of genome-edited plants. For research and science, the change brings enormous benefits: Plants bred by genome editing will be easier to grow and test in the field in the future. Many promising applications are already in the pipeline.
Wednesday, March 23, 2022
The online portal "Farminguk" reports on the new framework conditions for the cultivation of genome-edited plants in the United Kingdom. With the amendment of the law, the UK is aligning its framework in the field of new breeding methods with countries such as Australia, Japan, Argentina, Brazil and the USA. And it is now equal to the technology-friendly countries. The National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), a renowned plant research group based in Cambridge, welcomes the decision. Genome editing is a tool with great potential for plant breeding. It enables the same genetic changes as conventional breeding methods. However, genome editing is "much more precise and efficient."
Benefits for agriculture, the environment and consumers
The managing director of NIAB, Mario Caccamo, is convinced that the UK will strengthen its leading position in the field of plant genetics through the legal adjustment. It is true that the NIAB has been working with new breeding methods for years. However, up until now the research could only be carried out in the laboratory or in greenhouses. That is about to change. Caccamo says genome editing can help breed new plants that can better withstand climate change and require fewer fertilizers and pesticides. The NIAB has some concrete projects in the pipeline: Wheat resistant to fungal diseases, wheat that is safe for those with celiac disease, variations in flowering time in strawberries and features of the root architecture in durum wheat.
Boost for plant proteins
The adapted framework conditions give a boost to the production of more domestic plant protein sources. Genome editing can improve the potential of pulses such as peas, beans and soya. They are more climate-friendly and sustainable sources of protein than many animal products. Caccamo says: "The focus of research in the field of genome editing is on the development of cultivation systems that are less dependent on pesticides and fertilizers and that reduce the impact of agriculture on climate change." These are all important objectives that are shared across the political spectrum.
It is essential that society has confidence in research. Only in this way can it realise its maximum potential and ultimately overcome social challenges such as climate change or a pandemic. But there are also critical voices: Some of the Swiss population has little or no trust in science. Four experts debated how research can gain people's trust at an «NZZ Live» panel discussion.
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.