New FGU video explains unintended environmental effects of plants altered by CRISPR/Cas

The Project Genetic Engineering and the Environment explains why the risks need to be examined in detail

9 June 2021 / Today, the Project Genetic Engineering and the Environment (FGU) is publishing the third explainer video on the CRISPR/Cas gene scissors. In a total of four videos, the basics of the technology, possibilities and risks are presented. In particular, applications of the gene scissors in plants are explained. With these videos, the FGU wants to support an informed dialogue in society about the new genetic engineering methods, including their potentials and risks. Parallel to the videos, the FGU also publishes background papers on the individual topics with further information and references to scientific articles on its website.

The current video gives an overview of unintended effects that a release of genome-edited plants can have on ecosystems. Here we focus on the traits induced by genome editing, which can have effects on various metabolic processes in the genome-edited plants. The traits achieved with CRISPR/Cas can go far beyond what has been obtained with previous breeding. Accordingly, the risks must also be thoroughly examined. The next video and background paper will present the inherent risks posed by the production process of genome-edited plants.

The traits that can be changed in plants by CRISPR/Cas are various. In addition to the intended new trait(s), there can also be unintended effects on various other processes. Messenger substances, for example, with which plants communicate and with which they indicate a pest infestation and "warn" other plants, can be formed divergently. The composition of ingredients can also be changed, intervening in existing food webs and altering them. There is also the possibility that genome-edited plants may cross with wild species, leading to unintended effects in subsequent generations. Certain effects may also only become apparent in response to various stress factors. Therefore, these risks associated with the intended traits need to be examined in detail before possible approval.

The FGU has been conducting continuous 'Horizon Scanning' in the field of new biotechnologies since March 2020 and evaluates the scientific literature. The aim is to identify and analyze new technical developments, their applications in the field of biotechnology, and possible environmental impacts in the context of the precautionary principle. The FGU results have already been published several times in scientific peer-review journals. The project is funded by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, the project coordinator is Testbiotech.

Christoph Then,, Tel + 49 (0) 151 54638040