Just what is a genetically modified organism? Japanese scientists writing in a recent issue of the journal Trends in Plant Science say the answer is not so clear, and call for action to clarify the social issues associated with genetically engineered crops.
“Modern genome-editing technology has allowed for far more efficient gene modification, potentially impacting future agriculture,” Tetsuya Ishii of Hokkaido University said in a release. “However, genome editing raises a regulatory issue by creating indistinct boundaries in GMO regulations because the advanced genetic engineering can, without introducing new genetic material, make a gene modification which is similar to a naturally occurring mutation.”
The release says that under current regulations, a GMO is a living organism that has been altered by a novel combination of genetic material, including the introduction of a transgene. Advanced genetic engineering technologies raise regulatory issues because they don’t require transgenes to make alterations to the genome. They can simply pluck out a short DNA sequence or add a mutation to an existing gene.
“Genome-editing technology is advancing rapidly; therefore it is timely to review the regulatory system for plant breeding by genome editing,” says Ishii. “Moreover, we need to clarify the differences between older genetic engineering techniques and modern genome editing, and shed light on various issues towards social acceptance of genome-edited crops.”