Some genetically modified plants have the potential to spread into GMO-free agriculture as well as into the environment and throughout natural populations. In Europe, these are, e. g. rapeseed and camelina. This might jeopardise the preservation of the original species and regional varieties.
Many scientists in the US and the EU are interested in genetically engineering camelina (Camelina sativa). One focus, amongst others, is on the production of agro-fuel. Some plants in which 18 sites on the genome have been changed using CRISPR/Cas gene-scissors, have already been exempted from regulation. These plants show patterns of genetic changes and altered oil quality that would not be possible, or at least very difficult to achieve, with conventional breeding, even though no additional genes are inserted.
Camelina is one of the oldest cultivated plants in Europe. The plants can survive and multiply in the environment as well as cross into natural populations. Experts are warning that risks can arise from the cultivation of the genetically modified plants due to their altered oil quality and potential uncontrolled spread: for example, the oleic acids formed in genetically modified plants can impact the growth and reproductive rate of wild animals feeding on them. Interactions with beneficial insects and pollinators may be disturbed and defence responses to plant pathogens may be weakened. Problems could also arise if the oil seeds are accidentally introduced into food and feed.
This example shows: New GE can override the natural mechanisms in the cells that maintain and restore the original gene functions. New GE can thus result in plants and animals with extreme biological characteristics, which go beyond what can be achieved in conventional breeding. Unintended effects may occur due to interactions within the complex networks of genes, proteins and other biologically active molecules. Such unintended effects can still emerge even in cases where the genetic intervention is targeted and precise. Consequently, new risks can also arise. A mandatory approval process is necessary to obtain detailed information about the genetically engineered changes. Only then can the plants be identified if necessary and their uncontrolled spread prevented.