UK Bioscience sector now open for business say scientists

  • 23
  • MAR
  • 2023

Chief Executive Professor Angela Karp and other Rothamsted scientists have today welcomed the news that the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act has passed into law. 

Professor Karp said: “It will mean recent advances in gene editing technologies will soon be contributing to a more sustainable and productive farming sector. We’ve already seen the huge benefits genome editing brings to areas such as medicine – it’s now time to apply the same sort of innovation, together with responsible regulation, to our food production.

“The new law will significantly speed up our ability to test enhanced crops in the field. With the triple threats of climate change, a burgeoning human population, and widespread biodiversity loss hanging over us, the sooner we can get more resilient, more nutritious, nature-friendly crops to market the better.”

The hope is that genome editing of crops will lead to increased yields, improved nutritional content of food, and increased resilience to pests and diseases.

Benefits to the environment from the technology could include less land being used for farming and a reduction in farm inputs such as water, fertilisers, and pesticides - as well as a reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions, says genetic engineering pioneer, Professor Johnathan Napier. 

“The UK’s bioscience sector is now open for business,” he said. “Early benefits of gene editing for UK agriculture could include gluten-free wheat, oilseeds with heart-healthy fats, disease-resistant sugar beet and potatoes that are even healthier than those we have now.

“We can also use GE to remove unwanted genes such as allergens and toxins. It is tremendously exciting that this powerful genetic technology will now be regulated in a much more enabling manner, allowing society to benefit from its potential.”

Precision breeding involves using technologies such as gene editing to tweak the genetic code of organisms – creating beneficial traits in plants that through traditional, breeding would take decades to achieve. 

This enables scientists to safely create foods that are more flexible, adaptable and plentiful for years to come.  

Under the provisions of this Act, a new science-based and streamlined regulatory system will remove plants produced through precision breeding technologies from regulatory requirements applicable to genetically modified organisms.  

It will also establish a new science-based authorisation process for food and feed products derived from precision bred plants.  

Someone whose research will benefit from the bill is Prof Peter Eastmond, who is exploring how precision breeding emthods can be used to develop grasses with a higher fat content, which can improve animal feed by making it more energy-rich and which has the potential to supress methane emissions from livestock.  

He said: “The opportunities this new genome editing law will bring are genuinely exciting. I strongly believe that genome editing can contribute to making farming net zero. The increase in leaf total lipid content that we’ve achieved in the lab using GE is likely sufficient to significantly enhance productivity and reduce methane emissions from cattle and sheep if replicated in pastures.”

Professor Nigel Halford, who is currently running Europe’s first field trial of genome edited wheat, added: “This is great news. It will make it much easier for us to test the low acrylamide wheat lines we are developing in the field, which is essential if we are to find out if they could be suitable for wheat breeders to use. The possibility of low acrylamide wheat products being available to consumers in the future has moved one step closer.”

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.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
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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.