U.S – Researchers through a Policy Forum article that was just published in Science is seeking a new method of regulating genetically engineered (GE) crops, claiming that the methods now used to start safety tests differ greatly between nations.
Additionally, according to the researchers, the methodologies often lack scientific validity, particularly in light of how genetic engineering and conventional crop breeding have become increasingly intertwined.
The study claims that a more effective framework would assess the precise new traits of the crop itself by employing so-called “-omics” methodologies, as opposed to concentrating on the procedures and processes involved in the development of a GE crop to determine whether testing is required.
“The approaches used right now – which differ among governments – lack scientific rigor. The size of the change made to a product and the origin of the DNA have little relationship with the results of that change; changing one base pair of DNA in a crop with 2.5 billion base pairs, like corn, can make a substantial difference,” said Fred Gould, University Distinguished Professor at North Carolina State University, co-director of NC State’s Genetic Engineering and Society Center and the corresponding Author of the article.
Genomics can be used to search new crop varieties for unexpected DNA alterations, much like biomedical sciences can utilize genomic methods to search human genomes for harmful mutations.
Transcriptomics, proteomics, epigenomics, and metabolomics are further “-omics” techniques that look for additional alterations in the molecular make-up of plants.
These measurements of tens of thousands of molecular traits can be used as a fingerprint to identify whether a new variety’s output is “substantially equivalent” to output from existing varieties.
For instance, they can tell whether a new peach variety shares molecular traits with one or more commercial peach varieties already in use.
No safety testing would be advised, the study says, if there are no differences between the new product and products of existing types, or if there are differences that are understood and have no expected effects on health or the environment.
However, safety testing would be advised if the product had novel features that might have an impact on health or the environment or if it had variations that couldn’t be explained.
In terms of CRISPR-created variety, for instance, the European Union controls all varieties whereas other governments base their choices on the extent of the genetic modification and the source of the genetic material.
GE crop types that may have been generated using techniques other than genetic engineering are exempt from regulation, according to a rule published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2020.
According to Gould, the “-omics” approaches, if utilized properly, would not raise the cost of regulation, and the majority of novel kinds would not necessitate control.
“The most important question is, ‘Does the new variety have unfamiliar characteristics?’ The paper estimates that technological advances could make the laboratory cost for a set of “-omics” tests decrease to about $5,000 within five to 10 years,” Gould said.
The process of creating this new regulatory framework would begin with the creation of an international committee made up of crop breeders, chemists, and molecular biologists to determine the possibilities and costs of “-omics” techniques for a variety of crops.
Workshops involving these professionals as well as sociologists, lawmakers, regulators, and members of the public would allow for reliable discussions that could prevent some of the issues that GE’s rollout in the 1990s ran into.
Gould said that in order to get things moving and guarantee that assessments are available and accurate, national and international regulatory bodies should support these committees, workshops, and cutting-edge research.
Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects, a report written in 2016 by a 20-member National Academy of Sciences committee under Gould’s leadership, sought to “assess the evidence for purported negative effects of GE crops and their accompanying technologies” as well as “assess the evidence for purported benefits of GE crops and their accompanying technologies.”
The majority of that committee contributed to the current week’s published policy article.