GMO news related to United Kingdom

02.07.2020 |

Genome editing: Scientifically indefensible, anti-democratic, and harmful to trade

The amendment to the Agriculture Bill seeking to de-regulate gene-edited foods and crops should be discarded

An amendment has been tabled[1] in the UK House of Lords to the Agriculture Bill, seeking to change the definition of a genetically modified organism (GMO) in the UK’s Environmental Protection Act (1990) in order to exempt certain types of new genetic modification techniques, such as gene editing, from GMO regulations, within the context of “Agriculture Research”. This would mean that certain types of genetically modified organisms, including gene-edited ones, would escape safety checks and labelling. The Agriculture Bill will go to the committee stage in the House of Lords on 7 July.

02.07.2020 |

UK: Ask Ministers to reject plans to deregulate genome editing

What’s happening

A new Agriculture Bill is making its way through Parliament. An amendment has been tabled that would give the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (currently George Eustice) the power to change the definition of a GMO and re-classify many forms of genome editing as non-GM. That would mean that those techniques were no longer regulated (meaning no safety checks or GM labelling) and could be used on our farms or in our food without our knowledge or consent.

GM Freeze is working in partnership with Beyond GM and GMWatch to oppose this amendment and other attempts to deregulate the use of genome editing in our food or on our farms.

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.

02.03.2020 |

It's not just chlorinated chicken: five foods a US trade deal could bring to the UK

GM foods

The majority of US processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients, unlike British food. The US is demanding a “science-based” approach to food. This sounds good, but in trade deals “science-based” is a shorthand for more genetically modified food and more intensive chemical use. It contrasts with the EU’s precautionary principle, which takes a cautious approach to health risks and bans foods where there’s a credible risk to health. In the US, the balance of proof works the other way, and there is a high barrier that has to be passed before “harm” translates into regulation. Lead paint, banned in most of Europe before the second world war, was not prohibited in the US until 1978. Boris Johnson and his lead negotiator to the EU have talked about the need for the UK’s approach to food standards to be “governed by science”. GM is coming this way.

19.01.2020 |

GM food: Keep EU rules or risk health, says gene expert

A war of words has broken out among some of Britain’s leading scientists over the safety of genetically modified crops and livestock.

It follows a warning by a genome researcher at King’s College London that Crispr, the “high-precision” gene-editing technology that is revolutionising DNA research, is less precise than has been claimed and could create mutant crops that produce toxic or carcinogenic proteins.

Michael Antoniou, head of King’s gene expression and therapy group, said that after Brexit ministers should retain the tough EU rules that have blocked most genetically modified crops and livestock from commercial use.

13.03.2019 |

CRISPR spin-off causes unintended mutations in DNA

DNA base editors not as safe as previously thought

The past few years have seen a large number of research articles showing that the CRISPR gene-editing tool, designed to make a double-strand break in the DNA in a targeted location, may also cause many unintended mutations (damage to DNA).

Genetic engineers have tried to get around this problem by adapting the CRISPR gene-editing tool so that it no longer makes a double-strand break in the DNA. One adaptation consists of piggybacking onto the CRISPR tool an enzyme that changes individual DNA bases (so called “base editing”).

Base editing has been touted as a way of introducing changes in genes while avoiding the unintended effects, such as large deletions or rearrangements, which can arise from DNA repair processes following the usual CRISPR-induced double-strand DNA break.

22.01.2019 |

Application sent to Defra to conduct GM wheat trials

Researchers have applied to Defra for consent to conduct field trials of genetically modified (GM) wheat and gene-edited Brassica.

The two small-scale field trials are planned to take place at the John Innes Centre on the Norwich Research Park between April and September in each year from 2019 to 2022.

The wheat trial follows research at the John Innes Centre that identified a gene, TaVIT2 which encodes for an iron transporter in wheat.

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In the same application to Defra, researchers have requested consent to trial Brassica oleracea plants, modified using CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology.

18.01.2019 |

From gene editing to robotic honey bees: the pollinator crisis and new technology

A tightening of restrictions on the insecticides known as neonicotinoids has brought hope that the decline in honey bees and wild pollinators can be reversed. Yet concerns are growing as to how new technology could radically change the landscape. Are we heading towards a world of ‘frankenbees’, in which gene-edited bees are resistant to pesticides and where only the rich can afford to pay for pollinated crops?

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ROBOT SWARMS

Technological advances are likely to shift the parameters of the debate. Depending on your perspective, the potential opportunities offered by robotics and genetic engineering will either be reassuring or deeply disturbing.

At least five companies are working to develop robot bees that could be controlled in swarms to pollinate crops and be impervious to insecticides. Last year scientists at Delft University of Technology developed a prototype bee-like drone, whose wings beat 17 times per second to generate the lift needed to stay airborne. The robotic insect has a 33cm wingspan and weighs 29 grams, making it 55 times the size of a fruit fly. Harvard is also looking at such developments. ‘If we’re not careful we could end up with a situation where we have an environmental market for something we get for free,’ says Matt Shardlow of Buglife. ‘It could be in some companies’ financial interests to keep that going.’

Other researchers are studying whether it is possible to genetically engineer bees to be resistant to pesticides. By using CRISPR technology – a molecular tool that can amend an organism’s genetic code – it is possible to insert a desired trait into the specimen in question, such as a honey bee. Inevitably, bee keepers have labelled these ‘frankenbees’. The first genetically modified honey bee queens were born in a laboratory at Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf in 2014.

03.01.2019 |

The Rise and Fall of Gene-as-God: It’s the End of the Gene As We Know It

We are not nearly as determined by our genes as once thought.

We’ve all seen the stark headlines: “Being Rich and Successful Is in Your DNA” (Guardian, July 12); “A New Genetic Test Could Help Determine Children’s Success” (Newsweek, July 10); “Our Fortunetelling Genes” make us (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 16); and so on.

The problem is, many of these headlines are not discussing real genes at all, but a crude statistical model of them, involving dozens of unlikely assumptions. Now, slowly but surely, that whole conceptual model of the gene is being challenged.

We have reached peak gene, and passed it.

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In a paper in Physics of Life Reviews in 2013, James Shapiro describes how cells and organisms are capable of “natural genetic engineering.” That is, they frequently alter their own DNA sequences, rewriting their own genomes throughout life. The startling implication is that the gene as popularly conceived—a blueprint on a strand of DNA, determining development and its variations—does not really exist.

So it is, in a review in the journal Genetics in 2017, that the geneticists Petter Portin and Adam Wilkins question “the utility of the concept of a basic ‘unit of inheritance’ and the long implicit belief that genes are autonomous agents.” They show that “the classic molecular definition [is] obsolete.”

These radical revisions of the gene concept need to reach the general public soon—before past social policy mistakes are repeated.

17.10.2018 |

CRISPR causes greater genetic damage than previously thought

Caution required for using CRISPR in potential gene therapies – and food plants

Scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute have discovered that CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing can cause greater genetic damage in cells than was previously thought. These results create safety implications for gene therapies using CRISPR/Cas9 in the future as the unexpected damage could lead to dangerous changes in some cells. Potential consequences could include triggering cancer.

Reported on 16 July 2018 in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the study also revealed that standard tests for detecting DNA changes miss finding this genetic damage, and that caution and specific testing will be required for any potential gene therapies.

As usual we see far more honesty about the off-target effects of CRISPR from genetic engineers in the field of medical research than we see from the plant genetic engineers. However, the technique as used in plants is the same, as are the mechanisms of DNA repair. These off-target effects in food plants could have possible knock-on effects on food safety, including unexpected toxicity and allergenicity.

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