Rothamsted Research has submitted its responses to the UK government’s consultation questions on the regulation of gene editing (GE) technologies.

The submission argues that the current situation, whereby gene-edited organisms are regulated in the same way as transgenic GMOs, makes no scientific sense since the genetic changes in question could have been produced by traditional breeding methods.

Prof. Angela Karp, director of Rothamsted Research said:

“For plant breeding, there is no scientific justification for considering the introduction of targeted mutations in a crop by GE to be more risky than either mutations that occur naturally or random mutations induced using chemical or radiation mutagenesis.

“Moreover, the potential to improve to the safety and nutritional value of food crops through miniscule genomic changes introduced by GE, greatly outweighs any hypothetical risk of using the technology.”

Rothamsted Research testing

The submission cites the example of a new gene-edited wheat strain recently developed at Rothamsted, which has lowered levels of asparagine but is otherwise indistinguishable from unaltered plants.

When wheat products are cooked, asparagine can be converted to acrylamide, a potential carcinogen. The new strain will enhance food safety for consumers.

The document also includes details of how gene-editing can be used to improve the nutritional value of crops and promote disease resistance, potentially leading to reduced pesticide use.

Prof. Karp added that the team were not arguing that there should be no regulation of new genetic technologies.

She said: “It is entirely appropriate that formal regulations are drawn up to cover the development of new technologies.

"These should ensure consumer safety and encourage public confidence that all the necessary precautions are being taken.

“However, it is important that such regulations are grounded in science and that their management, after adoption, is also science-led and enabling," she concluded.