May. 25, 2023
″When science cannot distinguish one seedless grape from another, neither should regulation,″ argue the authors of a new paper titled, ″Regulation of plants developed through new breeding techniques must ensure societal benefits″ co-published by Pairwise researchers with University of Arkansas collaborator, Margaret Worthington earlier this month in the journal Nature Plants.
In the paper, the authors point out that genetic improvement in specialty crops is often difficult, but new breeding techniques, such as gene editing, can accelerate innovation in these crops bringing new varieties with direct benefits to consumers and dietary health. One of the most familiar ways to make fruits and vegetables more appealing is to make them seedless. Seedless varieties (e.g., bananas, watermelon) are common globally, have a long history of safe consumption, have been achieved in a variety of ways, and lead to increased consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables.
″In this article, we present a case study on the difficulty of developing a seedless Muscadine variety using traditional methods,″ said Dan Jenkins, lead author and Vice President for Regulatory and Government Affairs at Pairwise. ″We note how the identical seedless grape could be achieved several ways using gene editing and analyze how various regulatory systems treat these identical varieties differently due to a focus on process, rather than product. In doing so, we hoped to illustrate the lack of a rational basis for distinguishing these seedless grapes from one another and the potential downside of these systems.″
The authors argue that process-based regulation will only stymie innovation as differential requirements lead to a confusing system with higher burdens, lower utility, and increased time to market—disproportionately impacting public-sector breeding programs and small and medium-sized companies.
″I think many of us public sector and specialty crop breeders are discouraged from applying these tools in our programs because we are intimidated by the confusing patchwork of regulations around gene editing depending on the country and the specific methodologies employed,″ said co-author Margaret Worthington, Associate Professor of Horticulture at the University of Arkansas. ″Consistent risk-proportionate regulations around gene editing would encourage more of us to engage in innovative public-private partnerships or build capacity for gene editing within our own programs.″
The scientists point out that appropriate regulations based on product incentivize capacity building in gene editing, as well as increased and diverse investment in specialty crops that could play an important role in addressing societal challenges, such as our persistent dietary crisis.
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