Up to now it has been assumed that mutations occur randomly in the genome and only natural selection determines which changes are established. However, recent research shows that the emergence of new mutations is not completely random but influenced by gene regulation and genome organisation. The model plant Arabidopsis, as well as bacteria, yeast and mammals,have all been used for several scientific experiments on the mechanisms of heredity, gene regulation and genome organisation. It thereby became evident that there are several natural mechanisms to protect important genomic regions against too many changes.
Gene regulation and genome organisation can use these mechanisms to accomplish two essential functions: firstly, continuous change and (if required) rapid adaptation to new environmental conditions, and secondly, stable inheritancewhich is a precondition for the survival of a species. Evolution is dependent on the balance between chaos and order, change and stability. Whereby, gene regulation and genome organisation act as nature’s ‘flexible safety barriers’.
New GE is designed to override these mechanisms in the cells. Due to the technical processes used in New GE, the resulting patterns of genetic change (genotypes), as well as biological characteristics (phenotypes) and associated risks, can be very different compared to changes established through evolution. Therefore, a detailed examination of the risks linked to the release of New GE organisms and their use in food production must be mandatory.
There are numerous and diverse risks affecting ecosystems, agriculture and food production, e.g. changes in plant composition can impact wild animals such as mammals, birds or insects and their food webs. Changes in the composition of plants can also impact plant interaction and communication with the environment. These risks can affect e.g. insects (such as pollinators and beneficial species), symbiotic organisms (such as associated micro-organisms) or plant ‘enemies’ (such as pest insects). There are further specific risks associated with New GE organisms that can spread in the environment. Due to the diversity and complexity of interactions with the environment there can also be next generation effects, such as invasiveness, not observed in organisms developed in the laboratory.
Without strict regulation of New GE, the uncontrolled release of large numbers of organisms with characteristics not gradually developed through evolution can be expected within short periods of time. This would result in the substantial likelihood of damage to ecosystems, agriculture, forestry and food production.