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Challenging Regulations: Managing Risks In Crop Biotechnology

Huw David Jones
Published 2015 · Medicine, Biology
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Alongside other aspects of agriculture, plant breeding is pivotal to securing crop yields necessary to meet the growing demands for human food and animal feed. In addition to the important targets of yield, nutritional quality and resilience to abiotic stresses, breeding for resistance to pests and diseases will become even more critical as the availability of plant protection products is further diminished by regulation and/or the lack of new active ingredients coming to market (Chapman 2014) and by consumer preferences for fewer inputs. In this regard, it is fortuitous and timely that future crop genetic improvement will be aided by several developments in plant breeding that are underpinned by the massive increase in DNA sequence information flowing into databases from new methods of reading DNA that were developed in the mid 2000's (Moorthie et al. 2011). A stark example of this revolution in sequencing speed is seen in the progress of rice genomics where, after about three years work, the first draft genomic sequence of rice was published in 2002 (Goff et al. 2002; Yu et al. 2002). Yet, little over ten years later, IRRI published the genomic sequence of 3000 different rice varieties (Alexandrov 2015). This step‐change in sequencing and bioinformatics resulted in the generation of massive data sets that can be mined to give information about the genetic location and function of specific alleles which in turn can be used to inform and facilitate crop improvement via conventional breeding methods or via a spectrum of rapidly evolving molecular breeding technologies and concepts of synthetic biology. Two such technologies close to commercialization are genome editing and interorganism silencing which are discussed below. However, the plant breeder faces significant challenges to fully integrate these novel approaches to produce new varieties because of ambiguities and uncertainties surrounding risk assessment and regulation.
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