Seed World

If the Future Could Whisper, What Would It Say? CRISPR!


New interactive, open-access EU-SAGE database aims to keep EU stakeholders informed on genome editing’s crop applications’.

The European Commission published on 5 July, 2023 its long-awaited legislative proposal for the regulation of plants produced by certain new genomic techniques (NGTs). Though it is too early to draw conclusions on the legal aspects, the proposal hints towards a science-based approach for the regulation of genome editing applications in crops in Europe. It has been a long and bumpy road of policy developments since the CJUE court case (C-528/16).

Oana Dima is Executive Manager of the EU-SAGE network and Science Policy Manager at the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology.

Plant scientists in Europe have been raising concerns on the current EU status of crops obtained through NGTs, which is based on outdated EU legislation that no longer reflects the current state of scientific evidence and progress. The European Sustainable Agriculture through Genome Editing (EU-SAGE) [website: ] network, representing researchers from leading European plant science institutes and learned societies, was established to build awareness of the potential of genome editing in Europe and to urge the European institutions to develop new policies to support genome editing in plant breeding to enable more sustainable agriculture and food production.

The first genome-edited crops have entered the market and many more are in the process of commercialisation (JRC report, 2021) [].

To facilitate a more comprehensive understanding on the use of genome editing, EU-SAGE developed an interactive, publicly accessible online database [ ] of genome-edited crop plants as described in peer-reviewed scientific publications. The aim of the database is to transparently inform interested stakeholder communities, including civil society, about the most up-to-date evidence of genome editing in crops. Different elements including the plant species, traits, techniques, and applications can be filtered in this open access database.

Peer-reviewed articles, screened for relevance, are included in the database based on pre-defined criteria. The main criterium is that the research article should describe a research study of any crop plant in which a trait has been introduced that is relevant from an agricultural and/or food/feed perspective. The database gives no information on the stage of development of the crop plant, nor whether the intention exists to develop the described crop plants to be marketed. EU-SAGE is committed to regularly updating the database with new research studies.

More than 750 genome editing applications in crops have been compiled in the database. Interestingly, genome editing has been used in 65 different crops. The main crops of interest appear to be rice, tomato, maize, soybean, wheat, canola, and potato. In addition, the database reveals that genome editing has been also used to improve minor and even orphan crops.

The majority of introduced traits fall into three categories: improving the quality of plants for food and feed production, improving agronomic traits related to plant yield and growth to sustain productivity, and reducing pre-harvest losses and improving disease resistance (Figure 1). This clearly demonstrates that genome editing has been used to develop crops with benefits for producers and consumers.


Most of the genome-edited crops were generated in China and the U.S.; however, research and development using genome editing techniques occurs worldwide. In the EU, the highest number of applications originate from research in Germany and France. However, under the current EU legislation, all crop varieties obtained through NGTs are subject to strict GMO regulations. The political indecisiveness in the GMO authorization process de facto prevents the EU from using and cultivating genome edited crops. It is worth noting, however, that most of the genome editing applications are small genetic changes that belong to the SDN1 category and are referred to as “targeted mutagenesis” by the Commission.

The research studies in the database demonstrate the potential of genome editing to improve crop yield and quality, as well as to render agriculture more sustainable and climate resilient. However, the ongoing policy developments in Europe will be crucial in determining how genome editing in plant breeding can effectively contribute to building a greener future. The EU-SAGE network will continue to provide up-to-date information about the progress of genome editing applications in plants. As a society, we need to encourage open dialogue and evidence-based decision-making.

Editor’s Note: Oana Dima is Executive Manager of the EU-SAGE network and Science Policy Manager at the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB)