Seed Breeding Techniques & Genetic Modifications
The 2016 ASTA Seed Meetings included sessions on seed breeding techniques including genetic modifications. Many countries across the world are evaluating the ever broadening toolbox of breeding techniques, including genome modification for accelerated breeding.
Regulation of Seed Breeding Techniques
The White House has asked the USDA, EPA, and FDA to modernize regulatory requirements to incorporate biotechnology products. The goal is to take a science and risk-based approach to determine what needs to be regulated or not and the USDA representative said that the focus will be on the products, not on the transformation method. The challenge that these regulatory bodies face is to create policies that protect the environment, plant health, and human health while encouraging innovation. They see communication as a key element because the scientific community’s research can be drowned out by action groups’ concerns and the public’s dissemination of opinions on the internet, especially social media.
Genetic Modifications of Seeds
CRISPR is a method for performing single point mutations in DNA. Plant traits can be turned on or off by editing (inserting or deleting) parts of the DNA. By the end of this process there are no foreign components present in the DNA of the seed. Since there are no foreign components after the process is completed, regulatory bodies are not quite sure how to deal with these seeds and plants. Argentina already made these seeds and plants exempt from the Genetic Modification category. The USDA is still evaluating the situation. Perhaps the seeds will not be considered to be “treated” eliminating the requirement to add a seed coating colorant.
What is a reason that genetic modifications could be desired? Performing genetic modifications would accelerate the plant breeding process. Classical plant breeding, moving traits from one plant variety to another, is performed by crossbreeding. Classical plant breeding takes a long time – seven generations to get traits into the new plant. Now, with CRISPR, The stress resistant genes (mutations and edits) can be inserted or modified into the plants with genome editing, accelerating the breeding process.
- Corn could be made resistant to a particular herbicide. So when the herbicide is sprayed on the fields, the corn will not be affected. Increased herbicide resistance will decrease the risk of crop mortality when herbicides applied to control weeds.
- With genetic modifications, fungus resistance of a plant can be increased thereby reducing the need to use fungicides