This month has been marked by the Nobel price nomination for chemistry to the inventors of the CRISP/Cas9, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, and the discovery of a new methodology of use this technique, notably with the Cas3 enzyme, so to allow to work with bigger parts of DNA. Moreover, CRISP/Cas9 have been used to modify trees and chickens for more, respectively, climate-friendly usage, and to cure poultry virus.

10/01 – GM Soybean authorized

The Commission authorized the genetically modified (GM) soybean for food and feed use on September 28th. The biotech variety MON 87708 x MON 89788 x A5547-127 has gone through the comprehensive authorization procedure. The authorization covers imports and processing but not cultivation. It is valid for ten years and any product from the GM soybean, which was developed by Monsanto, now Bayer Corp Science, will be subject to the relevant Community labeling and traceability rules.

10/06 CRISPRing trees for a climate-friendly economy

A study published on Nature Communications by Prof. Wout Boerjan finds usage of CRISP/Cas9 technology on trees to make them contain less lignin, causing less CO2 emission in processed woods for paper, biofuels, and other bio-based materials. Co-publisher Dr. Barbara De Meester says “Poplar is a diploid species, meaning every gene is present in two copies. Using CRISPS/Cas9, we introduced specific changes in both copies of a gene that is crucial for the biosynthesis of lignin. We inactivated one copy of the gene, and only partially inactivated the other. The resulting poplar line had a stable10% reduction in lignin amount while it grew normally“. The applications of this method are not only restricted to lignin but might also be useful to engineer other traits in crops.

10/07 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the inventor of Crisp/Cas9

On October 7th the Nobel prize for Chemistry was given to Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Pathogens and Jennifer Doudna from the University of California, Berkeley. The two scientists have jointly developed one of the “sharpest instruments in genetic engineering”, the Crispr/Cas9 gene scissors, writes the Noble Prize Committee.

Thanks to the much-debated genome editing technique, individual molecules of the DNA can be exactly exchanged or changed, and since its discovery in 2012 practical applications have grown explosively. 

The Committee pointed out some beneficial practical uses of the Crispr/Cas9, such as the creation of crops with specific resistance features to several diseases (leading to a smaller amount of chemicals used on plants) and drought stress (reducing the consumption of water and allowing to grow crops in drier contexts). 

10/09 EU is stifling gene editing tools

A research conducted by Euroseeds shows that European breeding farmers complain that the EU legislation on research for improving the usage of new breeding techniques is too stringent. Notably, regulatory costs and timelines under the current EU GMO legislation stifles firms, as does uncertainty over future regulations including timelines for product approval. Besides, the survey showed that the regulation has its worst effects on smaller breeding companies because of the fact that they are less able to move research activities outside the bloc.

The British Society of Plant Breeders commented that the survey’s results show the growing interest in using new tools to enhance the speed and accuracy of crop breeding programs: “the findings also demonstrate the diverse range of potential applications, from improving crop quality and performances to better nutrition. Advances such as these are urgently needed for crop production to meet society’s future expectations in terms of climate change, healthier diets, and more sustainable approaches”. 

10/12 Gene findings could help treat costly poultry virus

The finding of the gene that is linked to the development of the Marek’s virus disease, which is highly contagious and it causes cancer in chickens and costs the poultry industry lore than $2 billion a year, could lead to more precise selective breeding strategies. 

The study, led by the UK’s Roslin institute, identified regions of the chicken DNA that are seen to play a role in the disease resistance. The Institute’s study leader, Dr. Smith, said “Our study identifies regions of the genome associated with resistance, which could be used for mitigating the effects of the virus through selective breeding, improved vaccine design, or future gene-editing technologies”. Moreover, the tumors caused by Marek’s virus have similarities to the human lymphoma, suggesting a possible increase of the understanding of human cancers. 

10/12 Argentina allows the world’s first GMO wheat

Argentina has been the first state in the world to allow the cultivation of the genetically-modified drought-tolerant HB4 wheat, announced the Ministry of Science. The Minister argued that the HB4 wheat quality, named “Event”, will secure production and harvest, while protecting nature since the new wheat require less space for cultivation.  

10/14 AgriFish Council in Luxembourg, open for NBT

In the Council conclusions on the Farm to Fork Strategy, ministers commented on the use of new breeding methodologies. “New innovative ingredients and techniques may play a role in increasing sustainability, provided they are safe for humans, animals, and the environment”; they concluded that they look forward to the forthcoming Commission study in the light of the ECJ ruling (Case 528/16) on the status of novel genomic techniques under EU legislation.

10/20 CRISP meets Pac-man: new DNA cut-and-paste tool enables bigger gene edits

A study published on Oct. 19th in the journal Nature Methods by PhD Joseph Bondy-Denomy & PhD Balint Csörg argues to have managed to use the Cas3 enzyme to remove much longer stretches of DNA. 

The scientists note that “Cas3 is like Cas9 with a motor – after finding its specific DNA target, it runs on DNA and chews it up like a Pac-man”. The new capability to delete or replace long stretches of DNA will enable researchers to more efficiently assess the importance of genomic regions that contain DNA sequences of indeterminate function, according to Bondy-Denomy. He continues underlying the possible usage of this discovery, “CRISP-Cas3 will enable biotechnology industry scientists to more easily remove potentiallypathogenic or useless DNA from bacteria used to produce pharmaceuticals […] it should also allow entire genes to be inserted into the genome in industrial, agricultural or even in human gene therapy applications”.