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Gene editing could circumvent restrictive GMO regulations

| | October 21, 2015
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Plant scientists have been quick to experiment with the popular CRISPR/Cas9 technique, which uses an enzyme called Cas9, guided by two RNA strands, to precisely cut segments of DNA in a genome. By disabling specific genes in wheat and rice, for example, researchers hope to make disease-resistant strains of the crops.

But the process can introduce bits of foreign DNA into plant genomes. And some jurisdictions, such as the EU, could decide to classify such plants as GMOs — making their acceptance by regulatory bodies contentious, says geneticist Jin-Soo Kim of Seoul National University.

Kim and his team tweaked the technique so that it can delete specific plant genes without introducing foreign DNA, creating plants that he and his colleagues think “might be exempt from current GMO regulations”.

“In terms of science, our approach is just another improvement in the field of genome editing. However, in terms of regulations and public acceptance, our method could be path-breaking,” says Kim.

Conventionally, researchers get CRISPR/Cas9 working in a plant cell by first shuttling in the gene that codes for the Cas9 enzyme. The gene is introduced on a plasmid — a circular packet of DNA — which is usually carried into a plant by the bacterial pest Agrobacterium tumefaciens. As a result, Agrobacterium DNA can end up in the plant’s genome.

To get around this problem, Kim and his colleagues avoid gene-shuttling altogether. They report a recipe to assemble the Cas9 enzyme outside the plant and use solvents to get the resulting protein complex into the plant. The technique knocks out selected genes in tobacco and other plants they say, reporting their results in Nature Biotechnology.

Read full, original post: CRISPR tweak may help gene-edited crops bypass biosafety regulation

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