CRISPR: ‘When research has regulatory, not scientific goal, regulations must be fixed’

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The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis.

Scientists say they hope to avoid government regulation of GMOs by using a variant on CRISPR. This thinking is worrisome — not so much for scientific reasons as for legal ones. When research is aimed at achieving a regulatory goal rather than a scientific one, it’s a sign that something is wrong with the regulations.

“In terms of science, our approach is just another improvement in the field of genome editing,” one of the scientists told the journal Nature. “However, in terms of regulations and public acceptance, our method could be path-breaking” because the new organisms “might be exempt from current GMO regulations.”

If this sentence doesn’t bother you, it should. The researchers were openly acknowledging that the point of their efforts is to work around existing GMO regulations.

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But the scientific dangers of genetic modification using CRISPR don’t depend on the use of a bacterium to effectuate the editing process. The key risks associated with the use of CRISPR are so-called off-target effects and these risks are the same in the new variant of CRISPR and the old.

In essence, the category of regulated material is orthogonal to the scientific dangers. That’s a glaring regulatory problem.

The answer is to change the regulations — and quickly. The Obama administration announced in July that it would create a task force to review existing GMO regulations. The new CRISPR workaround is a sign that this review needs to take place fast.

Regulatory change will shift incentives. There’s no reason regulation of cutting-edge research should be outdated. And there’s no reason scientists should be designing their research to do an end-run around the regulatory system.

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Read full, original post: This Is No Way to Regulate GMOs

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