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Government Revises Biosafety Guidelines for Genome-Edited Plants

The Department of Biotechnology announced rules for the safety evaluation of genome-edited plants on Tuesday, which is likely to speed up the country's crop genetic development.

Kritika Madhukar
Genome editing is a set of technologies that allow scientists to alter the DNA of living organisms
Genome editing is a set of technologies that allow scientists to alter the DNA of living organisms

The genetically modified crops guidelines establish a roadmap for the long-term use of genetic modifications, and they apply to both public and private research organizations involved in genome editing plant research and development.

In March 2022, the environment ministry issued a notification exempting certain genome-edited crops from the strict biosafety requirements that apply to genetically modified (GM) crops. The ministry has exempted site-directed nuclease (SDN) 1 and 2 genomes from sections 7-11 of the Environment Protection Act, allowing GM crops to be approved without going through the lengthy Genetic Engineering Appraisal Process.

According to KC Bansal, former director of the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, the traditional breeding process takes 8–10 years to generate new agricultural crop types, whereas genome-editing might take two to three years.

Genome-edited plants, according to scientists, are not the same as genetically modified organisms (GMO) technology.

Genome editing is a set of technologies that allow scientists to alter the DNA of living organisms. "These recommendations are intended to bring transformative change in product development and commercialization, as well as contribute to raising farmer income," said Rajesh S Gokhale, secretary of the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The guidelines identify numerous categories of genome-edited plants, determine regulatory needs for relevant categories, and provide a regulatory framework as well as scientific advice on data requirements in the context of crop development.

The guideline, according to Bhagirath Choudhary, founder and head of the South Asia Biotechnology Centre in Jodhpur, aligns and harmonizes India's regulatory framework on genome editing with that of other mega food-producing countries in Latin America, North America, Africa, and Asia. 

This decision, according to Choudhary, will encourage product development and commercialization of genome-altered plants, as well as promote agriculture and good trade.

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