News

30.04.2020 |

EFSA discusses risk assessment of gene drives

Testbiotech demands that ‘cut-off’ criteria are applied

30 April 2020 / The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) carried out a public consultation on guidance for the risk assessment of so-called gene drives at the request of the EU Commission. At the same time, a new Testbiotech scientific paper was accepted after peer review. The paper shows that the EFSA concept is insufficient. To control the risks of gene drives, ‘cut-off criteria’ need to be defined to prevent the uncontrolled spread of genetically engineered organisms.

Gene drives are genetic elements which can spread much more widely than would normally be expected. In recent years, artificial gene constructs have been developed using the gene scissor CRISPR/Cas. Organisms, inheriting such gene constructs, are meant to be released and intended to spread rapidly, especially throughout wild populations. The goal is to replace or eradicate the targeted species. However, once started, the spread can no longer be effectively controlled. Damage to human health and the environment can be extensive.

Against this backdrop, EFSA is currently working on guidance for the risk assessment of mosquitoes which inherit genetically engineered gene drives. There are already proposals to use these mosquitoes to fight malaria in Africa: the plan is to eradicate those species which can transmit malaria via a mutagenic chain reaction, or replace them with mosquitoes that can no longer be a vector of the disease.

29.04.2020 |

Native Corn Is Now Protected as of Part of Mexico’s National Heritage

Many heritages take pride in the products, crops, and material goods they make and provide that are indigenous to their location. These products, at times, are stolen or dishonestly acquired by others and claimed as their own. Mexico, a country known for many indigenous goods, is taking measures to make sure that one very special crop is protected from plundering.

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The new bill seeks to guarantee the preservation and promotion of native Mexican corn varieties against competition from other countries who are trying to replicate modern hybrids and GMO (or genetically modified) corn. “Genetically modified corn” refers to varieties of corn that have been developed to be resistant to certain kinds of infestations and adverse climate conditions such as drought.

28.04.2020 |

Gene Drives at Tipping Points

Precautionary Technology Assessment and Governance of New Approaches to Genetically Modify Animal and Plant Populations

This open access book reports on a pilot project aiming at collecting information on the socio-ecological risks that could arise in the event of an uncontrolled spread of genetically engineered organisms into the environment. The researchers will, for instance, be taking a closer look at genetically engineered oilseed rape, genetically engineered olive flies as well as plants and animals with so-called gene drives. The book mainly adresses researchers.

Arnim von Gleich1

Winfried Schröder2

1.Department of Technological Design and Development, Faculty Production EngineeringUniversity of BremenBremenGermany

2.Lehrstuhl für LandschaftsökologieUniversität VechtaVechtaGermany

27.04.2020 |

GeneTip project results published in full

New publication on technology assessment of gene drives

27 April 2020 / The GeneTip research project was a joint enterprise carried out from 2017 until 2019 by the Universities of Bremen and Vechta, the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna and Testbiotech, Munich. The researchers focused on risks associated with the spread of newly designed genetically engineered organisms into the environment. In particular, the project examined plants and animals with a so-called gene drive. The results have now been published in full by the Springer Publishing Company in a book titled “Gene Drives at Tipping Points“ (open access).

The project was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and coordinated by the University of Bremen (project code 01LC1724). The published results give a detailed overview of the technical characteristics of gene drives as well as associated risks.

Gene drives are designed to spread genetically engineered organisms rapidly through natural populations. In populations with sexual reproduction, genetic characteristics are normally distributed with a 50% probability to the offspring. The gene drive mechanism, however, interferes with process of natural inheritance, aiming to pass on new genetic information to almost 100% of following generations. There are ongoing debates about using gene drives to combat insects such as mosquitoes and fruit flies, or rodents such as mice and rats. The aim is to suppress or eradicate the target species within a region, or to replace it with genetically engineered populations.

24.04.2020 |

Citizens of the world, reclaim our seed!

Let us celebrate International Seed Day, not World Intellectual Property Day

#InternationalSeedDay

We are living in extraordinarily challenging times. The COVID-19 health crisis has fomented an economic crisis, and exposed the underlying risks, fragilities, and inequities in our food systems. It is essential for us to reclaim our seed diversity, biodiverse ecosystems and bio-cultural landscapes, that support nutritious local food systems and millions of livelihoods. In light of the pandemic, we demand the full protection and fulfillment of the rights of small-scale farmers and indigenous peoples across our planet.

On April 26th, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) celebrate the World Intellectual Property Day 2020 under the slogan “Innovate for a green future”.

24.04.2020 |

CUJ and the No! GMO Campaign: Please Reply to Our Questions Regarding Glyphosate Use in Hokkaido

Request to cease use of pre-harvest glyphosate in soybeans and reply to questions regarding its use

In response to our questionnaire dated March 17 2020, you responded on March 27 by e-mail, but you did not answer our questions 1 to 4.

Domestic agriculture is in a deep crisis due to trade agreements such as the TPP, the EU-Japan EPA, and the US-Japan FTA. We believe that the pursuit of safety in order to compete with cheap imported agricultural products is the best way to increase confidence in domestic agriculture and to survive. Many of the JAs under your organization are actively reducing the use of pesticides and pursuing environmentally friendly agriculture. Not only do we want you to produce safe agricultural products, but we also want to support domestic agriculture, which is responsible for Japan’s food self-sufficiency, and we worry about the health of the producers who are spraying pesticides.

10.04.2020 |

CUJ: Concerns Regarding Genome Editing of Fish

An article appeared in Tokyo Shimbun on January 24, 2020 that reported on the use of genome editing to exterminate invasive fish. The research is being pushed forward as a study by the National Research Institute of Aquaculture.

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Consequently, Consumers Union of Japan wrote to the research center on January 29 to express our concern and to ask a number of questions. We consider that this type of genome editing can have a large impact on related species, the natural environment, as well as the entire ecosystem. This impact due to the release of genome-edited fish must be analysed very carefully. On February 17 we received a reply from the research center.

02.04.2020 |

Scientists “surprised” to find that CRISPR editing tool is not as precise as previously claimed

Editing tool is found to be prone to making off-target "nicks" in DNA

The gene-editing tool known as CRISPR-Cas12a or Cpf1 has been viewed as a better choice than other Cas editing tools because it was believed to be more precise and less prone to making off-target cuts in DNA.

But a new paper shows that Cpf1 is not as clean or specific as touted. The researchers employed in vitro assays using a vast collection of synthesized DNA molecules containing variations on the editing site sequence. They found that Cpf1 was highly prone to making off-target single-strand cuts, or "nicks", in the double-stranded DNA molecules. Off-target double-strand DNA cuts were also found, albeit at a lower frequency than the single-strand nicks.

31.03.2020 |

Monsanto Agrees to $39M Settlement for Roundup False Ad Lawsuit

Monsanto will pay a $39.5 million class action settlement for falsely claiming that Roundup weed-killer targets an enzyme that is only found in plants.

The issue was that Monsanto promoted Roundup’s safety for people and pets by claiming that glyphosate, the active weed-killing chemical, targets an enzyme that is only found in plants.

The lawsuit claimed that the enzyme is actually found in people and pets, where it is essential for maintaining the immune system, digestion, and brain function.

26.03.2020 |

Could a rogue scientist use CRISPR to conjure another pandemic?

By Neal Baer, a television writer and producer and lecturer on global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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As a television writer and producer of “ER,” “SVU,” and most recently “Designated Survivor,” I draw on audiences’ love-hate relationship with uncertainty to play on their emotions. I know that audiences love plots riven with unexpected twists and turns.

When we’ve emerged on the other side of the pandemic, Covid-19 will someday make a good story. But I worry that CRISPR could make Covid-19 look like child’s play.

CRISPR is a new genetic tool that lets scientists cut out a DNA sequence in an organism’s genome and replace it with another. The hope is that this ingenious scissors-and-glue system will be used to treat devastating genetic diseases like sickle cell anemia and beta thalassemia.

But there’s a dark side to CRISPR. A scientist or biohacker with basic lab know-how could conceivably buy DNA sequences and, using CRISPR, edit them to make an even more panic-inducing bacteria or virus. What’s to stop a rogue scientist from using CRISPR to conjure up an even deadlier version of Ebola or a more transmissible SARS?

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