Genomic editing technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9 offer tremendous potential for accelerating genetic progress in crop plants and livestock, but a new ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) appears likely to stifle research and development in the European Union.
The ECJ ruling mandates that genomic-editing technology should be regulated similarly to genetic engineering methods using DNA from other species to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Europe currently enforces tight restrictions on planting and sales of GM crops.
Proponents of genomic editing maintain that the techniques modify an organism’s existing DNA to encourage expression of desirable genetic traits, or discourage undesirable traits, without introducing DNA from other species. The results are similar to those from conventional selection-based breeding, but can occur much faster – in a single generation rather than many generations over years of time.
In a recent example, scientists in Scotland used genomic editing to create a line of pigs with genetic resistance to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), one of the most destructive viral diseases in pigs worldwide.
The ECJ ruling to classify organisms developed using genomic editing as GMO’s removes financial incentives for companies to research the process for use in the European Union. According to news reports, Europe-based genetics companies such as Bayer, BASF and Syngenta likely will focus their genomic-editing research on other regions, such as North and South America.