CRISPR is a genetic editing technique perfected by the Broad Institute, a collaboration between Harvard and MIT, whose spirit is to “Act nimbly, Work boldly, share openly, and Reach globally.” CRISPR stands for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats”. These repeats in DNA code have been studied for a couple of decades but only recently been used to make changes in DNA code. By manipulating these strands of code, traits can be introduced into a genome without introducing foreign DNA. This has broad implications, many of which have been the fodder for Sci-Fi movies for decades. In this day of labeling frenzy, the most significant thing may be that this skirts the requirement to label a product as genetically modified (due to the absence of foreign genetic matter).
The USDA issued a release this past week stating that the agency does not have any plans to regulate plants that have been genome-edited… What the USDA is doing here is drawing a line in the sand: if a plant (or whatever) is altered by adding genes from some unrelated plant, it’ll be regulated. If no other plant is involved, you can mess around in the genome of your subject however much you want, without oversight. Plants that would thus qualify for regulation-free modification include those edited with a process usually referred to as CRISPR, or gene editing.
Since the USDA has opted to call organisms modified with CRISPR technology genetically “optimized” rather than genetically “modified” (at least for the moment), is it possible that these new organisms won’t be labeled GMOs? Of course, there are other U.S. entities that have yet to weigh in (FDA, EPA). As we mentioned in a recent article, Monsanto will not be able to use gene-driving with its newly acquired CRISPR technology.
Indeed, a Harvard geneticist recently told Business Insider that CRISPR/Cas9’s agricultural applications are “a beautiful thing.”
Man, after all, must eat. It may not be a thing of beauty, but it sure is a necessity.
If you haven’t had the chance to check out the recent ammendment to the 1947 Agriculture act, here is a pdf: mandatory-labeling-bill. Recently, a version of a mushroom that was developed using the CRISPR technology was designated non-GMO. The recent amendment would appear to counter that decision however. The wording appears to include ALL genetically altered foods in it’s description of bioengineered foods:
‘‘(A) that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques; and ‘‘(B) for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.
CRISPR technology does not introduce foreign DNA into an organism. What it does is trigger mutations that exist within the genome already, essentially genetic what-ifs. This would satisfy item (B) in the above quote of the amendment, but NOT item (A) since it does use in-vitro recombinant techniques. However, the law also sets a timeline of 2 years for the Secretary of Agriculture to come up with a standard for disclosure concerning bioengineered foods, the amount of bioengineered material that must be present, etc. I think it’s fairly clear that CRISPR will be part of that list, but there may be some leeway.
Monsanto announced last week that it has licensed the use of CRISPR technology from The Broad Institute. The exciting technology will be used to further its seed business, which is committed to producing seed that has a better yield, or is more drought-resistant, or other desirable properties. There are 2 important caveats that come with the licensing. Continue reading “Monsanto Licenses CRISPR Technology”