The National Biosafety Technical Commission (CTNBio) considered, in an extraordinary meeting on September 1st, that the soy genome editing, conducted by Embrapa with the CRISPR technique, to deactivate some anti-nutritional factors, results in conventional soy, therefore, non-transgenic. The opinion given by CTNBio was based on Normative Resolution 16 and considered that the edited plant does not have the presence of DNA from another species, which makes the product non-transgenic.
"This CTNBio approval is a great achievement because by considering this soybean as non-transgenic, there is no need for us to conduct the complex process of commercial deregulation of a transgenic product. Thus, the commercial release is faster, reducing costs and facilitating the entry of products in the market with guaranteed biosafety," celebrates Alexandre Nepomuceno, general manager of Embrapa Soja.
In the Embrapa Soja laboratories, the researchers used the precision technique of gene editing CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) to deactivate the anti-nutritional factor lectin in the DNA of a highly productive soybean cultivar. "With this precise and punctual alteration in the soybean DNA, we were able to imitate some processes that exist in nature itself, but that could take a long time to obtain by other techniques, such as classical breeding," Nepomuceno explains.
Some anti-nutritional factors in soy, which is used as a protein component in animal feed and even in human food, hinder the digestibility and absorption of nutrients, especially in monogastric animals such as pigs and chickens have stomachs with reduced storage capacity. "Because of this, the use of soy is dependent on thermal processing that inactivates these anti-nutritional factors, but that increases the cost of production," explains one of the research coordinators, researcher Liliane Henning, from Embrapa Soja. "Our expectation with these developed plants is to guarantee the nutritional quality of soy, but potentially enable cost reduction in the use of soy for animal feed," says Liliane.
From now on, Embrapa has the possibility to introduce this desired genetic characteristic in its other cultivars adapted to the different producing regions. However, the modification made to the soybean DNA has already been made to a highly productive variety. "If we had used classical breeding, it would have taken 10 to 12 years to have the same characters introduced into a productive variety. With the CRISPR technique, this was done in 6 months. After confirmation of the phenotype (presence of the desired characteristic), the edited variety is ready for registration and commercialization," says the researcher.
Legislation and biotechnology
According to Nepomuceno, CTNBio's opinion for the new soybean is relevant because it expands the possibility for public research institutions or even small and medium-sized companies to develop solutions based on biotechnology that can actually become innovations in the market. According to him, Brazil has been following the same understanding that countries like the United States, Canada, Argentina, Japan, Australia, Chile, and Colombia have adopted, that is, more assertive legislation regarding the use of biotechnology in agriculture, especially in the use of gene editing techniques such as CRISPR.
Nepomuceno reinforces that gene editing often mimics natural processes or processes already established such as classical genetic improvement. This corroborates with the understanding of regulatory agencies, worldwide, that consider organisms with edited genome as conventional organisms. "This perception is allowing a democratization of the use of biotechnology in agriculture, enabling the presence of more companies participating and bringing solutions and added value to agribusiness," he explains.
The Embrapa Soy team also highlights that soy genome editing, through CRISPR technology, has been used in the institution to generate plants with the deactivation of other anti-nutritional factors (trypsin inhibitors, for example), improvement of oil quality and also in the activation of soy native genes involved in increasing tolerance to drought.