Saturday, April 13, 2024

Scientists welcome refining of gene reg

Neal Wallace
EPA gives nod to ‘null segregants’ application from researchers.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Scientists say new fields of research will open following a decision to recategorize null segregants, organisms that are descended from genetically modified organisms but do not contain genetic modifications.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has accepted an application from AgResearch and 14 other research institutions to recategorize these organisms, which scientists said will enable the development of new and enhanced primary sector products.

A null segregant is described as the offspring of a genetically modified plant or animal. It is not genetically modified, does it contain characteristics of being genetically modified and poses no greater risk than a conventionally bred or developed product.

Richard Scott, AgResearch science team leader, said that until now legislation has treated null segregant organisms as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

“We had a clear view as researchers that these null segregants were not GMOs, but now we have certainty from the EPA to support this.”

He said this decision will enable researchers to consider opportunities to use null segregants in productive industries in areas such as health, nutrition and wellbeing.

This process will accelerate the breeding of productive plant species such as new varieties of New Zealand-adapted ryegrass, to make plants produce fruit sooner than would usually occur, or enhanced traits such as disease resistance.

The introduction of a null segregant organism into the environment will still need to be verified case by case by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Chris Hill, the EPA’s general manager for hazardous substances and new organisms, said this decision brings NZ into line with Australia and the United States and will help NZ scientists keep pace with international researchers.

Plant & Food Research chief scientist Richard Newcomb said perennial plants can take five years to reach maturity and determining if a new variety is commercially viable can take a decade or more.

“Any tools that can be used to speed up this process are highly valuable.”

Jo Putterill, a professor in plant molecular genetics at Auckland University, said breeding plants with desirable traits can take decades.
“The ability to incorporate new breeding technologies into the toolkit for plant breeding can change the equation.”

AgResearch Emeritus scientist Tony Conner said this decision was long overdue.

“I distinctly remember debating the null segregants issue with government officials prior to the HSNO Act in the mid-1990s.

“There was a lack of understanding of basic genetics and how genes segregate during sexual reproduction to result in null segregants.

“At the time there was no clear example of what value a null segregant might be.”

He said the technology will stimulate new ideas and applications for the improvement of plants and animals, but questions remain.

“While the decision on null segregants is most welcome, a major challenge remains.

“How do you get a null segregant out of containment? What burden of proof will be required for a null segregant to be declared not genetically modified?”

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