Researchers from across the UK met this week at a BBSRC-led workshop to discuss current and prospective developments in genetic technologies, their application in crop breeding and implications for regulation.
Experts from a variety of backgrounds, including plant scientists, plant breeders, regulators and social scientists, attended the meeting to help provide the basis for a BBSRC position statement for dissemination and discussion in the UK and Europe. The statement will be published by BBSRC later this year.
As the world population continues to grow, bioscience researchers are working alongside other disciplines to safeguard against food shortages and develop more resilient and sustainable agriculture. New technologies could provide part of the solution, including molecular genetic techniques for genome editing (such as CRISPR, TALENs and zinc finger technologies) that make specific changes to a sequence of DNA, and tools for epigenetic modification (such as RNA-dependent DNA methylation for gene silencing) that modify the activation of certain genes, but not the sequence of DNA.
These recent scientific developments offer enormous opportunities to harness the full potential of crops – leading to development of better yielding varieties more resistant to disease and more resilient to environmental change. However, scientific and regulatory issues need to be addressed whilst considering public debate.
The 'New crop breeding technologies' workshop offered an opportunity to share different perspectives on the current status of technologies and future prospects, set within the broader social and economic context, and to discuss different regulatory frameworks and approaches.
Professor Jackie Hunter, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: "The UK is well placed to lead the world in crop improvement and to facilitate the step-change in agricultural productivity that will be required. We are world-leaders in plant sciences and should be proud of using these skills for the benefit of humankind. However, any advances in innovation carry responsibility. It is imperative that we provide a framework that outlines the context in which these technologies could be applied, the manner in which they will be delivered, and a vehicle for public engagement and dialogue. BBSRC's position statement will provide important guidance for this exciting field."