Seed World

UK: Gene Editing Gets Parliamentary Approval

On March 14, the Houses of Parliament approved a Statutory Instrument which will make it easier to conduct field trial research involving plants produced by new genetic technologies, such as gene editing.

In a press release, Sam Brooke, CEO of the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB), stated:

“This legislation will enable UK plant breeders to continue their established world leading research and development which brings crucial new varieties to farmers. Using this new technology will help to contribute to agricultural productivity, which is vital in these challenging times.

Brooke says that by enabling this trialling of new technologies, there’s opportunity for all organisations to access advances in plant breeding.

Gene editing can offer new research tools and a new plant breeding technique that’s more precise and efficient than traditional plant breeding, chief executive Professor Mario Caccamo, says in a release sent out by NIAB.

“This Statutory Instrument marks a small but important step towards aligning our regulations with other parts of the world, such as Australia, Canada, Japan, Argentina, Brazil and the U.S., where simple gene edited plants are not regulated as GMOs,” he adds.

New genetic technologies could help the UK tackle bigger challenges, says Minister for Agri-Innovation and Climate Adaptation Jo Churchill. Issues around food security, climate change and biodiversity loss were used as examples.

“Now we have the freedom and opportunity to foster innovation, to improve the environment and help us grow plants that are stronger and more resilient to climate change,” she says. “I am grateful to the farming and environmental groups that have helped us shape our approach, and I look forward to seeing what we can achieve.”

The legislation follows the launch of the Government’s response to the gene editing consultation last year.

According to a January 20 release from the UK Government, Prof. Nigel Halford, who leads this trial at Rothamsted Research, stated:

“The use of gene editing could help reduce the risk of acrylamide formation when wheat products are baked and toasted. This has potential benefits for public health and the manufacturing of food products,” he said.

“Climate-resilient wheat. Developing wheat that is resilient to climate change will help to increase food production from a crop that 2.5 billion people globally are dependent on. Researchers at the John Innes Centre have used gene editing techniques to help identify and explain the key gene, ZIP4, in wheat which is responsible for maintaining 50% of yield in this global crop. This discovery presents an exciting new opportunity to breed high-yield, elite wheat varieties using a novel mutation of the gene, while also allowing the introduction of critically important traits such as resilience [to rising climate temperatures] and disease resistance.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) released the accompanying video in October 2021, in support of the legislation: