For decades we have been slowly improving techniques for genetic modification, and now disruptive technologies could be changing the entire biotech landscape. Genome editing technologies have the power to make much smaller, more precise changes to genomes, and so theoretically can avoid some of the arguments against GM foods.
The changes don’t need to be the introduction of a new gene, and may be so small that it will be impossible to tell whether a crop has been developed using genome editing or conventional breeding.
The most high-profile technique is CRISPR/Cas9, which is already being used to modify the genomes of plants and animals. Potential uses range from crop improvement to gene therapy for human disease, so it has been surrounded by debate.
The status of this debate isn’t entirely clear. Some countries, including the US, have declared that genome edited crops won’t be regulated as genetically modified organisms. The European Union is yet to pass comment, and organic groups seem to be deciding that it won’t be compatible with organic certification.
It is also much cheaper than current GM techniques, meaning it could allow smaller companies to get in on the action.
For more information, here are some useful links:
A quick summary from The Biologist.
A detailed analysis from Nature – history and future predictions.
An introduction to genome edited crops from BioMed Central.