1. Agriculture World

UK Pushes for Crop Biofortification through Genetic Technology Bill

"The Genetic Technology Bill provides an excellent opportunity to investigate ways to address the nutritional deficiency found in many crop-based foods," says Professor Martin Warren, Chief Scientific Officer at the Quadram Institute.

Shivam Dwivedi
Wheat
Wheat

New UK legislation that promotes innovation and more nutritious crops has been introduced to the country’s Parliament last week in a move designed to address future food security. Genetic Engineering (Precision Breeding) Bill will work to reduce red tape that stifles research into new gene-editing technology, allowing for the development of precision bred plants and animals.

"The Genetic Technology Bill provides an excellent opportunity to investigate ways to address the nutritional deficiency found in many crop-based foods," says Professor Martin Warren, Chief Scientific Officer at the Quadram Institute.

"Gene editing enables the development of plants with improved qualities that would otherwise take many years to produce using traditional breeding programmes."

"The ability of plants to increase levels of key minerals such as iron and zinc, as well as vitamins A, B, and D, holds significant potential as a way to improve lifelong health through biofortification," he adds.

"As we transition to more crop-based sustainable diets, the need for sustainable and healthy functional foods becomes clear. The gene-editing tools covered by the legislation allow researchers to make precise changes to plant genomes to give them beneficial traits or characteristics."

This could include crops that are more nutritious, filling nutritional gaps in diets, or making staple foods healthier and more sustainable for the planet.

Only last week, NutraIngredients reported on genome editing of the humble tomato, which could pave the way to vitamin D sufficiency.

The study describes how the team engineered provitamin D3 accumulation in the tomato, as well as how the waste material produced could provide the basis for increased supplement production.

This was accomplished by turning off a specific molecule in the plant's genome, which increased vitamin levels in both tomato fruit and leaves. It was then exposed to UVB light, which converted it to vitamin D3.

The government emphasizes that the precision breeding techniques outlined in the new legislation are distinct from genetic modification (GM) techniques, which involve the introduction of genes from one species into another.

"The Government is taking a step-by-step approach by first developing legislation for plants," according to the announcement.

"No changes will be made to animal regulation under the GMO regime until a regulatory system to protect animal welfare is developed."

"While these new proposals will allow many useful innovations to move forward, crops improved with the GM method – such as blight-resistant potatoes, oilseeds that produce fish oil, or purple tomatoes – will still be subject to the same excessive regulation as before," adds Professor Jonathan Jones, Plant Scientist at The Sainsbury Laboratory.

"I sincerely hope that in the future we will be able to go even further." Crop varieties should be regulated based on their properties rather than the method used to improve them, particularly now that food prices are skyrocketing.

"The UK's Environment Secretary, George Eustice, says, "Outside of the EU, we are free to follow the science."

"These precision technologies enable us to accelerate the breeding of plants with natural disease resistance and better use of soil nutrients, resulting in higher yields with fewer pesticides and fertilizers. The United Kingdom has some incredible academic centres of excellence that are poised to lead the way."

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