Rothamsted Research has confirmed that it has sown seed of genetically edited (GE) Camelina sativa, a member of the brassica family, just weeks after regulations for scientific field trials were eased.

Using a seed drill specifically designed for the relatively small seed numbers used in field trial work, the plot was prepared and seeded in just a few hours.

However, the big difference was the time saved in applying for permission to conduct the trial.

Under previous regulations, trial sites had to be specifically identified and permission sought from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) following a detailed application procedure.

Now, under the UK government’s new qualifying higher plant (QHP) status – the post-EU non-genetically modified (GM) classification for GE crops, plants can be sown anywhere on Rothamsted’s farm.

For the current trial, the approval process for QHP status took just a few minutes as opposed to the months required under the older pre-Brexit regulations which lumped GM and GE crops together.

Professor Johnathan Napier is leading Rothamsted’s research into genetically altered camelina plants that can produce long chain omega-3 oils.

He said:

 “The new regulations make it significantly easier to carry out research trials and we are very pleased to be able to take immediate advantage this.”

He added:

“I am excited by the opportunities that the new QHP status will bring in terms of reduced regulatory burden and in advancing our research and development of oilseeds with improved nutrition and higher yield.”

Lab to field

Rothamsted is currently one of the very few sites in the UK where field trials of crops developed using new genomic techniques can take place at farm scale.

According to research scientists at the centre, testing crops in this way field is an essential part of evaluating whether the promise of new traits has actual potential.

“Many traits are identified in the lab. But agricultural cultivation and the variable conditions crops are grown in bears limited resemblance to these controlled conditions,” Napier said.

 “So, field evaluation is a critical part of the process to deliver useful traits and societal benefit from our research.”

He continued:

 “Previously, regulation made it very hard to carry out such trials for genetically edited and genetically modified and crops, impeding innovation.

“Hopefully, these new rules for genetically edited research trials will encourage more researchers to move out of the lab and into the field to validate their discoveries.”