James Hutton Institute welcomes Defra announcement on gene editing

The James Hutton Institute has welcomed plans unveiled by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to pave the way to enable use of gene editing technologies in England.

Gene editing can unlock benefits to nature, the environment and help farmers with crops to enhance resilience to pests, disease or extreme weather.

Professor Lesley Torrance, Director of Science at the Institute, said: “We welcome this decision; while it is important to thoroughly scrutinise new breeding technologies to ensure the highest standards for food safety, it is also important that regulations are updated to take account of new information and new developments.

“Defra’s decision reflects this approach and applying gene-editing techniques will facilitate the development of new crops selected for climate resilience and provide healthy nutritious food while safeguarding the environment. Gene editing techniques allow the breeding of new crops more quickly, which is essential to mitigate the challenges posed by our changing environment.”

Prof Derek Stewart, Director of the Institute’s Advanced Plant Growth Centre (APGC), added: “The relaxation of the regulation of gene-edited crops offers many opportunities to deliver the next generation of crops that will be able to deliver simultaneously to the economic, environmental, biodiversity and net-zero agendas in the UK. To do this, we will need state-of-the-art science facilities such as APGC, to create, develop and translate these new crops into the field environment.”

Gene editing is different to genetic modification where DNA from one species is introduced to a different one. Gene edited organisms do not contain DNA from different species, and instead only produce changes that could be made slowly using traditional breeding methods.

Defra’s announcement focuses on plants produced by genetic technologies, where genetic changes could have occurred naturally or could have been a result of traditional breeding methods.