Gene Editing technologies get legal green light

Scientists and farmers are welcoming the news that gene editing technologies have been given the legal right to be used in the development of arable crops.

The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act has now been passed into law, meaning that gene editing innovation can be used to develop higher yielding, more nutritious crops with increased resilience to disease and drought.

Under the provisions of the Act, a new science-based and streamlined regulatory system will remove plants produced through precision breeding technologies from regulatory requirements applicable to genetically modified organisms

Precision breeding means the genetic code of organisms are tweaked, creating traits that other wise would take decades of breeding to achieve.

There are potential benefits to both the quality of the food produced and the impact on biodiversity. The use of gene editing could lead to less land under cultivation, a reduction in inputs such as water, fertilisers and pesticides and a reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Genetic engineering pioneer Professor Johnathan Napier said of the new law: ‘The UK’s bioscience sector is now open for business. Early benefits of gene editing for UK agriculture could include gluten-free wheat, oilseeds with heart healthy fats, disease-resistant sugar beet and potatoes that are even healthier than those we grow now.’

He added: ‘We can also use GE to remove unwanted genes such as allergens and toxins. It is tremendously exciting that this powerful genetic technology will now be regulated in a much more enabling manner, allowing society to benefit from its potential.’