Sunday, January 15, 2017

Should "Gene Editing" be Regulated?

The generally accepted definition if a GMO (genetically modified organism) is an organism whose genome has been modified by the addition of one or more genes from another species.  Most genetically modified corn, for example, has been modified by the addition of genes from certain bacteria, with the goal of giving the corn either resistance to insect pests or resistance to a common herbicide.  Not everyone thinks that GMOs are a good idea, and there have been numerous efforts (some successful, some not) to block their development and widespread use.

Now for a new but related question; how should we feel about "gene editing"; the simple removal of existing genes from an organism, without the addition of foreign genes?  It's now possible, due to a recently developed technique (called Crispr) for selectively snipping genes out of DNA at selected locations.  Crispr is already being used to produce gene-edited plants of interest, such as potatoes or mushrooms that don't turn brown and soybeans with healthier fatty acids.

Last year Congress passed a law requiring that foods containing GMO ingredients must be labeled as such.  However, that labeling requirement apparently doesn't extend to plants that are just gene-edited because currently they fall outside the regulatory authority of the federal agencies that oversee GMOs, such as the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration.

It'll be interesting to see whether the regulatory agencies ever decide to examine and/or regulate gene editing.

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