NGT rice on its way to the fields?

Recent research shows increasing need for detailed risk assessment

6. March 2024

6 March 2024 / The first rice obtained from new genetic engineering (NGTs) could soon be commercially available in Japan, according to a recent publication. The available data show that it is unlikely the NGT rice could be obtained from conventional breeding techniques. It thus requires in-depth assessment of health and environmental risks. However, according to the plans of the EU Commission, the rice also may be grown in Europe, without in-depth risk assessment.

Japanese researchers used CRISPR/Cas gene scissors to drastically reduce the content of glutelin in the grains. Glutelins are major seed storage proteins in rice and a major source of protein for humans. A reduction in the proteins is meant to have positive effects on the health of consumers who suffer from conditions, such as diabetes or renal insufficiency. Several attempts have been made in the past to achieve comparable results with conventional breeding. However, CRISPR/Cas gene scissors have now made it possible to achieve results far beyond any prior breeding attempts.

The reduction of glutelins in rice is associated with trade-offs: the content of other proteins is increased and therefore, specific attention has to be paid e. g. to allergenic factors in grain composition. Whatever the case, the plants should be subjected to health risk assessment prior to their commercialisation. There are some further indications that the texture of the grains may be altered in a way that will reduce their food value.

Furthermore, environmental risk assessment has to be conducted and measures to avoid uncontrolled gene flow also need to be put into place. If the NGT rice is cultivated in the fields, rice growing regions could be exposed to spontaneous gene flow, with potentially long term and significant consequences for breeding, rice production and biodiversity.

The researchers announced that they intend to make the rice commercially available in Japan. There may also be some interest in European markets, especially for import or cultivation in rice growing regions, such as Italy, Spain, France and Hungary. According to current European Commission plans for the deregulation of NGT plants, the rice could be grown without in-depth risk assessment.

Testbiotech considers the NGT rice to be an another example showing the huge differences between NGTs and conventionally-bred plants. There are also other instances that clearly show the need for mandatory risk assessment, e. g. tomatoes, camelina, wheat and poplar trees obtained by new genetic engineering.

Christoph Then,, Tel + 49 151 54638040

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