“Australia is set to reform how it regulates new genetic engineering techniques, which experts say will help to dramatically speed up health and agriculture research. The changes will enable agricultural scientists to breed higher yielding crops faster and cheaper, or ones resistant to drought and disease. Australia’s gene technology regulator Raj Bhula has proposed reducing regulations around gene editing techniques such as CRISPR, following a 12 month technical review into the current regulations. The most radical change put forward by the regulator is that some of the more efficient and newer genetic technologies, known as gene editing, would not be considered “genetic modification”. “With gene editing you don’t always have to use genetic material from another organism, it is just editing the [existing] material within the organism,” Dr Bhula said.
“All of our regulatory frameworks and laws have been established based on people putting unrelated genetic material into another organism. “Whereas this process is just manipulation within the organism and not introducing anything foreign.” Case for deregulation when there is no risk Under current legislation, a genetically modified organism (GMO) is broadly defined as an organism that has been modified by gene technology, and is subject to heavy regulation. Genetically modified crops have been available for decades and some are already widely used in Australian agriculture, particularly cotton and canola. Gene editing in the farmyard From hornless cows to sexing chickens — Natasha Mitchell explores how genetics could transform agriculture on Science Friction. GM cotton varieties, such as BT cotton, use the DNA from a common soil bacterium to repel insects. Dr Bhula said the newer technologies, rather than inserting a foreign gene, involve editing an existing gene to speed up the development of an organism that would usually happen over time.
”If these technologies lead to outcomes no different to the processes people have been using for thousands of years, then there is no need to regulate them, because of their safe history of use,” she said. “If there is no risk case to be made when using these new technologies, in terms of impact on human health and safety for the environment, then there is a case for deregulation.” If approved, the reforms will have wide ranging benefits for agriculture research, and could speed up the research and commercialisation of disease, salt or drought-resistant crops, or high yielding varieties. The changes are currently open for consultation, and will ultimately need to be signed off by Commonwealth and state and territory governments, and passed in federal Parliament…”
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