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Robots & Machines

The US Is Considering Loosening Its Regulations on Gene Editing

Genetically modified crops are becoming more and more common - and regulators are studying how they can keep up with the advancements.

June JavelosaApril 13th 2016

The reality of Gene-Editing

We have entered the age of gene editing. In fact, this era actually began some time ago; however, its reach takes time to be felt, which why numerous countries are now rethinking their regulations surrounding altering the source code of life. Specifically, nations are rethinking genetically modified (GM) crops.

Currently, GM crops are occupying 181 million hectares of the world’s farmland. And scientists are getting better and better at altering crop genomes to bring new plant varieties into the market, and regulators are trying to catch up.

Among them is the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Members of this committee will begin their first meeting to discuss the matter, and under the guidance of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), alongside two other agencies, they will study the potential of advancements in the field of biotechnology in the next decade.

Rethinking Regulations

The result of this discussion could inform and prompt the USDA’s ongoing effort to re-assess its approach for evaluating engineered crops.

The US is recognized for growing the most GM crops annually, and many people are of the opinion that the current regulations are too restrictive. A lot of developers are also looking forward to marketing gene-edited crop varieties and are seeking clarifications regarding the USDA’s existing regulations.

Discussions are centered on everything from the simplest application of genome modification to the impending reality of more sophisticated and complicated changes, such as rewriting the genome altogether or inserting new ones. “We don’t understand how those crop varieties are going to be regulated,” says Daniel Voytas, chief science officer at Calyxt, a plant biotechnology company in New Brighton, Minnesota. “And they’re already in the works.”

Which is precisely why such discussions are so important.

While many support this discussion, certain groups are more apprehensive about lending support, noting that the technology is still new. And as regulatory boards try to relax the rules surrounding their distribution, there are concerns about how this may lead to oversights.

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