FIRST SOWING OF GENETICALLY EDITED CROP UNDER NEW UK REGULATIONS
Less restrictive rules will speed up advances in plant breeding say scientists
Farm staff at Rothamsted Research notched up a UK first this month by sowing seeds of genetically edited Camelina sativa just weeks after regulations for scientific field trails were eased, allowing much more freedom for researchers to plan their field experiments.
Using a seed drill specifically designed for the relatively small seed numbers used in field trial work, the plot was prepared and seeded in just a few hours. However, the big difference was the time saved in applying for permission to conduct the trial.
Under previous regulations, trial sites had to be specifically identified and permission sought from DEFRA following a detailed application procedure. Now, under the government’s new Qualifying Higher Plant (QHP) status - the post-EU non-GM classification for GE crops, plants can be sown anywhere on Rothamsted’s farm. For the current trial, the approval process for QHP status took just a few minutes as opposed to the months required under the older pre-Brexit regulations which lumped GM and GE crops together.
Professor Johnathan Napier, who is leading Rothamsted’s research into genetically altered Camelina plants that can produce long chain omega-3 oils said, “The new regulations make it significantly easier to carry out research trials and we are very pleased to be able to take immediate advantage this. I am excited by the opportunities that the new QHP status will bring in terms of reduced regulatory burden and in advancing our research and development of oilseeds with improved nutrition and higher yield.”
Rothamsted is currently one of the very few sites in the UK where field trials of crops developed using new genomic techniques can take place at farm scale. Testing crops in this way field is an essential part of evaluating whether the promise of new traits has actual potential.
“Many traits are identified in the lab, but agricultural cultivation and the variable conditions crops are grown in bears limited resemblance to these controlled conditions. So field evaluation is a critical part of the process to deliver useful traits and societal benefit from our research,” said Professor Napier. “Previously, regulation made it very hard to carry out such trials for GE and GM crops, impeding innovation. Hopefully these new rules for GE research trials will encourage more researchers to move out of the lab and into the field to validate their discoveries.”
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 https://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/; 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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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.