This week, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier and biochemist Jennifer Doudna for the development of crispr-cas, a method for making small adjustments to DNA in a simple way.
“It’s a very nice technology”, says Gerard Backx, CEO of potato breeder HZPC. “We can do wonderful things with that, if we could apply it.”
More Dutch companies in plant breeding are eager to develop better potatoes with this technique, for example. But the European Court ruled in 2018 that this new technique falls under the strict existing EU rules for genetic modification.
These rules mean that extensive testing must be carried out to determine whether a crop made with Crispr-Cas is safe for humans, animals and the environment. Such a crop must also be labeled ‘genetically modified food’, so that consumers know what they are buying.
But all those rules make it impracticable for seed breeders to use the technology. Which is a shame, says Backx. “If we can apply this, then we can very quickly create improved varieties that allow us, for example, to increase yields and improve disease resistance.”
USA, China, Japan, Russia
“The EU is stepping on the brakes and hindering all kinds of innovations,” says microbiologist John van der Oost of Wageningen University & Research. He is also working on crispr systems. “Economically we miss the boat because of this. In many other countries this is not an issue. In the US, China, Japan, Russia, they can just continue there.”
“The question is: when will we find a product genetically modified?”, Says Marc van Mil, teacher of DNA techniques at Utrecht University. “For example, you can bombard a potato with UV radiation in the hope that you will get an extra mutation in the DNA. You then consciously destroy the DNA in the hope of accidentally getting a better plant. That is ‘traditional’ plant breeding and we call it ‘traditional’ plant breeding. no genetic modification. “