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Europe’s Dangerous “CRISPer” Volcano Ride

Author(s): Matthias Fladung

Mutations are essential for evolution and high biodiversity. Natural mutations occur spontaneously and are non-targeted. They have thus been very important for plant breeding since humans started domestication many thousand years ago. New genetic technologies such as genome editing with site-directed nucleases, e.g., CRISPR/Cas9 (“CRISPer”), allow mutations to be induced in a very fast and highly targeted manner. Genome editing will, therefore, drastically accelerate the traditional breeding process of already available crop plants, but also will produce new crop varieties. Genome editing is, similar to genetic engineering technology, a topic of high public controversy in terms of biosafety concerns. Although public debates to ensure the environmental safety of plants and animals derived from newly developed technologies are very important, such debates can also delay or even impede the practical use of novel innovative technologies. Europe must, in the next few years, make key decisions about the fate of such technologies, like genome editing. It is time to address the danger that the approval process of these technologies is getting tangled-up in the huge European bureaucratic net. CRISPR/Cas9 and other genome editing technologies could experience the same fate as genetic engineering, which has been the focus of endless public debates for at least 30 years. At the moment, the entire situation is like a ride on the rim of a volcano.

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