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The Flemish Institute for Biotechnology VIB has received a permit for continuing a field trial with maize plants in which a few minor hereditary changes have been made with the help of CRISPR. The research project started in 2017.
Editorial office / Ghent

A European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling of July 2018 triggered a decision by the Belgian authorities that such a CRISPR experiment requires a permit. The ECJ decided that small heritable changes (so-called mutations) induced through CRISPR are not exempt from the GMO legislation, even though the same mutations elicited via ionizing radiation or chemicals do not need to follow these rules.

Surgically accurate

There is scientific consensus that CRISPR allows one to produce desired modifications in crops in a much more efficient and surgically accurate manner. The CRISPR technique can help with the development of crops that can contribute to important sustainability goals, such as reducing the environmental impact of agriculture, making plants more robust against climate stress, improving the nutritional content of food crops, and protecting biodiversity. In many cases, this involves the introduction of small heritable variations (mutations) that could arise spontaneously in nature or via traditional breeding methods. ‘There is worldwide consensus that CRISPR-modified crops are at least as safe as traditionally generated mutants’, says Dirk Inzé, scientific director of the VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology.

The scientific field trial focuses on basic research into the consequences of the increasingly difficult growing circumstances plants are exposed to due to climate change, like heat, drought and UV radiation. In the maize plants of the field trial mutations are induced in genes involved in the repair of DNA damage. These plants are not meant to be further developed and will never enter the market or food chain.

VIB will collaborate with ILVO for practical aspects of the CRISPR maize field trial.