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

The Project Genetic Engineering and the Environment (FGU) is today publishing its third explainer video on CRISPR/Cas gene scissors. The basics of the technology, its possibilities and risks are presented in a series of four videos in total. They focus, in particular, on explaining gene scissor applications in plants. The FGU explainer videos aim to encourage and support informed public dialogue on the new genetic engineering methods, including their potentials and risks. The FGU will also be publishing background papers on the individual topics with further information and references to scientific articles on its website.

The current video gives an overview of the 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 an effect on various metabolic processes in the genome-edited plants. The traits achieved with CRISPR/Cas can go far beyond what has been previously obtained with conventional breeding. Accordingly, the risks must be thoroughly examined. The next video and background paper will present the inherent risks posed by the production process of genome-edited plants.

CRISPR/Cas can be used to change various traits in plants. In addition to the intended new trait(s), there can also be unintended effects on various other processes. . CRISPR/Cas applications can, for example, change messenger substances with which plants communicate and with which they signal a pest infestation to “warn” other plants. The composition of plant ingredients might also be changed and disrupt existing food webs. There is also the possibility that genome-edited plants could cross with wild species, leading to unintended effects in subsequent generations. Some effects may only become apparent in response to various stress factors. Therefore, the risks associated with the intended traits need to be examined in detail before possible approval.

The FGU has been conducting ongoing ‘Horizon Scanning’ in the field of new biotechnologies since March 2020. It also 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. FGU findings have already been published several times in scientific peer-reviewed journals. The project is funded by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, the project coordinator is Testbiotech.

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

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