Europe’s genetically edited plants stuck in legal limbo

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Scientists frustrated at delay in deciding if GM regulations apply to precision gene editing.

Alison Abbott, from Nature

Plant geneticist Stefan Jansson is champing at the bit to start field trials on crops tweaked with powerful gene-editing technologies. He plans to begin by using edits to study how the cress plant Arabidopsis protects its photosynthetic machinery from damage in excessively bright light.

But the future of his work depends on the European Commission’s answer to a legal conundrum. Should it regulate a gene-edited plant that has no foreign DNA as a genetically modified (GM) organism?

Jansson, who works at Umeå University in Sweden, says that he will drop his experiments if the plants are classed as GM, because Europe’s onerous regulations would make his work too expensive and slow. He and many others are anxiously awaiting the commission’s decision, which will dictate how they approach experiments using the latest gene-editing techniques, including the popular CRISPR–Cas9 method.

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Featured image: Stefan Jansson’s genetically edited thale cress (Arabidopsis) at the University of Umeå. The European Commission has not yet decided if such plants should be regulated as GM organisms.