09.06.2020 |

CRISPR-edited rice shows wide range of unintended mutations

Gene-editing tool "not as precise as expected", say researchers in new study. Report: Claire Robinson

CRISPR gene editing in rice varieties caused a wide range of undesirable and unintended on-target and off-target mutations, according to an important new study authored by a Chinese and Australian team of scientists and published in the Journal of Genetics and Genomics.[1]

The researchers were trying to improve the yield of already high-performing varieties of rice by disrupting the function of a "green revolution" semi-dwarfing gene (SD1). They used a stable transformation method that ensured that the CRISPR editing tool remained active in the plants over four generations, so that they could examine the effects over time.

08.06.2020 |

Don't de-regulate risky gene editing, scientists tell Eustice

Amendment to the Agriculture Bill without full Commons debate is "violation of the political process that is not acceptable in a parliamentary democracy"

A group of MPs, peers and the GMO research establishment is urging the government to introduce genome editing into UK food and farming by sidestepping parliamentary and public scrutiny, as Pat Thomas and Lawrence Woodward of Beyond GM recently reported.

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If adopted, the Amendment would open the door to the deregulation of genetically engineered crops and animals produced using gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR.

The Amendment has not been debated in the Commons and its attachment to the Bill at this late stage of its passage through Parliament appears to be a blatant attempt to avoid a full and open debate on a crucial issue with widespread implications for the farming and food sector and consumer choice.

Now two scientists familiar with gene-editing technologies have written an Open Letter to George Eustice asking him to reject the Amendment and not propose it to the Lords.

08.06.2020 |

Seed savers across Australia are supporting their communities during the coronavirus pandemic

When COVID-19 panic-buying caused a national run on commercial seedlings, a movement of backyard "seed savers" sprang into action to help — and some are now looking to establish greater stocks, in case they are needed again.

Seed savers networks exist throughout Australia and the world — and are often comprised of urban farmers, and balcony and backyard growers.

Their mission is to create a "living bank" of seeds, genetically wired to thrive in particular conditions, and to reduce the need to buy seeds at all, by preserving open-pollinated and heritage varieties that will produce identical plants year-on-year.

In contrast, commercial seedlings are typically not bred to reproduce.

29.05.2020 |

Profiting from health and ecological crisis in Africa: The Target Malaria project and new risky GE technologies

Second-generation GMOs produced from gene drive technologies, genome editing, paratransgenesis and cisgenesis are increasing the scope, scale, depth and flexibility of interventions that can be performed by the biotech industry, including genetically engineering of wild populations and ecosystems. Research and development (R&D) projects are largely financed by European and North American institutions; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF); and the US military research arm – the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

29.05.2020 |

Global Gene Drive Moratorium: Federal Council Must Act

An alliance of 30 organizations calls on the Federal Council to advocate a global moratorium on the release of gene drive organisms (GDO) at the UN Biodiversity Conference. Switzerland's negotiating mandate, which the Federal Council and the administration are currently working on, is setting the course for the conference. A moratorium on gene drives is imperative to protect biodiversity and finally put agriculture on an ecological path. Rethinking is the order of the day - the Corona crisis shows that once again.

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Gene Drives: Destructive and uncontrollable

Gene drives are the most dangerous application of the new genetic engineering processes to date, because they can be used to bypass the laws of biological inheritance. The genetic chain reaction that the CRISPR / Cas gene scissors use was developed to genetically modify natural populations. The application should deliberately not be limited to the laboratory or the field, but should change or even eradicate naturally occurring species. Gene drives are invasive and irreversible, but their effectiveness is questionable and has not been verified. The risks of technology for people and the environment are still largely unexplored today. Given their aggressiveness and enormous range of effects, the consequences of a release could be devastating for biodiversity.

28.05.2020 |

GM Fungi to kill Mosquitoes: Illegal experiments in Burkina Faso?

Conducted silently and out of the public eye, a three-year experiment involving a new and potentially unsafe and risky genetically modified (GM) fungus to kill mosquitoes was performed in the village of Soumousso in Burkina Faso in 2019. When the study was published in a US scientific journal in May 2019, a media frenzy broke out, heralding the experiments as a breakthrough cure for malaria.

The GM fungus was developed by introducing a toxin from the lethal Australian Blue Mountains funnel-web spider into the M. pingshaense fungus, to ostensibly increase the efficiency of the fungus to kill mosquitoes and stave off malaria.

The use of GM fungi is offering a quicker route to the market than gene drive organisms, in a ‘new era of transgenic microbial control’. Indeed, the latest devastating locust infestation in East Africa has prompted calls for the use of GM fungus, with claims being made about the importation of non-GM and GM fungal biopesticides from China.

However, the GM fungus experiments raise many troubling legal, biosafety, ethical, political and human rights concerns, as detailed in the ACB’s new briefing .

27.05.2020 |

Gene Drives Webinar

The authors of the interdisciplinary Gene Drive Report (2019) are holding webinars on social, technological & scientific, environmental, ethical and legal questions of this new technique in June 2020 via Zoom – for free.

02 June 2020 15:00 – 16:30

«What are gene drives? How do they work?» by Ricarda Steinbrecher

04 June 2020 15:00 – 16:30

«Gene drives: What problems are they intended to solve and what are the risks?» by Mark Wells

10 June 2020 15:00 – 16:30

«Gene drives in a social context: promises, precaution & public engagement» by Tamara Lebrecht

12 June 2020 16:00 – 17:30 [sic!]

«Ethical Questions about Gene Drives» by Christopher Preston

16 June 2020 15:00 – 16:30

«Are governments keeping an eye on gene drives?» by Lim Li Ching

14.05.2020 |

European Patent Office gives green light to prohibit patents on plants and animals

Enlarged Board of Appeal agrees with restrictive interpretation of patent law

14 May 2020 / Patents on plants and animals derived from conventional breeding can be fully prohibited in Europe. This is the result of a verdict published today by the Enlarged Board of Appeal, the highest legal body of the European Patent Office (EPO). The Board concluded that plants and animals obtained by ‘essentially biological processes’ are not patentable, with the exception of patent applications filed before July 2017. This verdict is in line with the interpretation of European patent law as decided by the 38 member states of the EPO in 2017. No Patents on Seeds! welcomes the verdict but is also demanding further political decisions to close still existing loopholes. Access to biological diversity needed for further breeding must not be controlled, hampered or blocked by any patents.

“For more than ten years we have been fighting against patents such as those on broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, melons and cereals. Therefore, we welcome this verdict in the name of the European public, gardeners, farmers and consumers. Knowledge of methods of breeding plants and animals continues to evolve as a common good from the activities of farmers and breeders over centuries, it is not invented by industry. In future, conventionally bred plants and animals have to be kept available for further breeding,” Martha Mertens says for Friends of the Earth Germany.

07.05.2020 |

The EU not ready for the release of Gene drive organisms into the environment

Summary:

Gene drive organisms (GDOs) have been suggested as an approach to solve some of the most pressing environmental and public health issues. Currently, it remains unclear what kind of regulations are to be used to cover the potential risks. Scientists have evaluated the options for an operational risk assessment of GDOs before their release into environments across the EU.

06.05.2020 |

Spatio-temporal controllability and environmental risk assessment of genetically engineered gene drive organisms from the perspective of EU GMO Regulation

ABSTRACT

Gene drive organisms are a recent development created by using methods of genetic engineering; they inherit genetic constructs that are passed on to future generations with a higher probability than with Mendelian inheritance. There are some specific challenges inherent to the environmental risk assessment (ERA) of genetically engineered (GE) gene drive organisms, since subsequent generations of these GE organisms might show effects that were not observed or intended in the former generations. Unintended effects can emerge from interaction of the gene drive construct with the heterogeneous genetic background of natural populations and/or be triggered by changing environmental conditions. This is especially relevant in case of gene drives with invasive characteristics and typically takes dozens of generations to render the desired effect. Under these circumstances, ‘next generation effects’ can substantially increase the spatial and temporal complexity associated with a high level of uncertainty in ERA.

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