Discover Benelux, Issue 64, April 2019

Page 34

Discover Benelux  |  Top Dutch Education  |  Building a Bright Future

Conversations on science, society and the future of gene editing TEXT: KARIN VENEMA  |  PHOTOS: WAGENINGEN UNIVERSITY AND RESEARCH

After previous editions in Canada and America, Wageningen University and Research is proud to host the 2019 CRISPRcon event in the Netherlands. In this unique forum, a broad selection of voices come together to discuss the future of CRISPR and related geneediting technologies across applications in agriculture, health, conservation and more. CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, and CRISPR-Cas is a new technology that can be used to edit genes within organisms relatively simply, very accurately, and efficiently. It makes it possible to translate 34  |  Issue 64  |  April 2019

information obtained from DNA sequences quickly into plants with modified traits, and thus to increase the genetic variation available for plant breeding. The revolutionary CRISPR-Cas technique is currently attracting broad interest because of its potential contribution to improving the sustainability of food production, reducing environmental impacts, and improving human health. These applications also raise important questions about risks, benefits, ethics, equity and more.

Plant breeding Europe’s highest court ruled in June 2018 that plant breeding using CRISPR-Cas constitutes genetic modification and

should be regulated as such. This is not the case for conventionally mutated crops, made with techniques such as radiation and chemical treatments which cause many, random mutations but have already been in use since the 1930s, so there is a lot of knowledge about their safety.