Current regulation “makes no scientific sense”

  • 10
  • MAR
  • 2021

Rothamsted Research today submitted its responses to the government’s consultation questions on the regulation of gene editing (GE) technologies. The submission argues that the current situation, whereby gene edited organisms are regulated in the same way as transgenic GMOs, makes no scientific sense since the genetic changes in question could have been produced by traditional breeding methods.

Professor Angela Karp, Director of Rothamsted Research said, “For plant breeding, there is no scientific justification for considering the introduction of targeted mutations in a crop by GE to be more risky than either mutations that occur naturally or random mutations induced using chemical or radiation mutagenesis. Moreover, the potential to improve to the safety and nutritional value of food crops through miniscule genomic changes introduced by GE, greatly outweighs any hypothetical risk of using the technology.”

The submission cites the example of a new gene edited wheat strain recently developed at Rothamsted which has lowered levels of asparagine but is otherwise indistinguishable from unaltered plants. When wheat products are cooked, asparagine can be converted to acrylamide, a potential carcinogen. The new strain will enhance food safety for consumers.

The document also includes details of how gene editing can be used to improve the nutritional value of crops and promote disease resistance , potentially leading to reduced pesticide use.

Professor Karp added that the team were not arguing that there should be no regulation of new genetic technologies.

“It is entirely appropriate that formal regulations are drawn up to cover the development of new technologies. These should ensure consumer safety and encourage public confidence that all the necessary precautions are being taken. However, it is important that such regulations are grounded in the science and that their management after adoption is also science-lead and enabling,” she said.


About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
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About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.