Will crops created with CRISPR have to undergo the same rigors as GMO’s?

by Jonathan LaBorde, Sustainable Plant Systems major

Here in America it seems that scientists have already made the consensus that CRISPR created crops should not be treated as if they are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s). In the United Kingdom (UK) and much of Europe this is not the case. As the United States has approved the use of CRISPR created white button mushrooms and corn, the UK is still dealing with the ethical issues of using this new technology.

CRISPR is essentially being able to find and edit existing genes in DNA sequences. Unlike GMO’s where one is taking foreign DNA from a separate organism and inserting it into the desired organism, CRISPR only involves the gene(s) of choice.

Since this is still modifying the DNA, much discussion is going on about how this new technology should be categorized. By only using the genes present and editing them using CRISPR proteins, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between these crops and the traditionally bred ones.

Penny Maplestone, chief executive of the British Society of Plant Breeders has voiced her concerns saying, “It is very frustrating that we have no guidelines whatsoever from the European commission, despite the length of time it has had to consider what is, after all, an enormously important issue.” (US moves to sell gene-edited mushrooms fuel doubts over British ban on GM imports)

While it seems that there will in fact be restrictions in much of Europe on this new technology, many plant breeders and scientists are still researching the potential that CRISPR has to offer. Some examples include researchers that have created a strain of barley using CRISPR that can create its own ammonium fertilizer, a help to areas with poor soil nutrition. Or a group that is researching a beet that can produce L-Dopa, a drug that is used to treat Parkinson’s disease.

As scientists around the world embrace this new technology, those that fall under the European commission still wait to hear if commercial cultivation of their products will ever be allowed. As with GMO’s, this technology will likely gain criticism by much of the public throughout the world.

Source of Information:

The Guardian. McKie, Robin. April, 2016 > “US moves to sell gene-edited mushrooms fuel doubts over British ban on GM imports.”

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This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

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