Closing conference on the ‘Horizon Scanning’ undertaken by the Project Genetic Engineering and the Environment
Review – Slides from our conference on November 15, 2022:
Christoph Then, Testbiotech
Overview on goals and results of the project →
Franziska Koller, FGU
Technical features and risks of NGT applications in food plants →
Meike Schulz, FGU
Possible interactions of NGT plants with the environment →
Michael Eckerstorfer, Environment Agency Austria (UBA)
Differences between NGT applications and conventional breeding →
Christof Potthof, Expert analysis commissioned by BfN
Analysis of the EU Commission study on NGTs →
Biotechnology has seen some highly dynamic developments in recent years. In particular, the new genomic techniques (NGTs, genome-editing) can be expected to accelerate the release of genetically engineered organisms.
The Project Genetic Engineering and the Environment (Fachstelle Gentechnik & Umwelt, FGU) started its ‘Horizon Scanning’ project in November 2019. It was funded by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) via the UFOPLAN of the Federal Ministry for the Environment – grant number 3519840300. The Horizon Scanning project focused on research in the field of new genomic techniques (NGTs), the different technical variants and properties, its potential and possible impact on nature and the environment. It was designed to identify new developments in gene-/ biotechnology, and thus systemically identify and examine at an early stage the possible effects of the technology and its applications on the environment.
The focus of the final conference was on the risks associated with NGTs, their causes and the different levels of risk assessment. The key finding of the project was that gene editing cannot be seen as equivalent to conventional breeding, as NGTs make the genome available for changes to a much greater extent. One of the presentations dealt with findings on the potential environmental impacts of genome-edited camelina with changes in oil composition.
Around 80 people from across Europe attended the conference, including from civil society, science, authorities, NGOs, environmental associations and members of the German Bundestag, the EU Parliament and the EU Commission. It was held with simultaneous translation into German and English.
In terms of content, the conference was divided into two parts. After the general welcome, there was an overview of the aims and results of the project (Christoph Then). Two presentations addressed the technical possibilities and risks of new genetic engineering (Franziska Koller and Meike Schulz). There was an explanation of the risks associated with the technology on the level of the genome, the organism and the ecosystem. In the subsequent discussion, the panelists mainly asked technical questions concerning the function of the CRISPR/Cas gene scissors, the differences between the various applications (SDN-1-3) and the ability of the gene scissors to access protected genomic areas. Additional questions were asked about the intended and unintended effects resulting from the use of new genetic engineering and other examples of NGT organisms.
In the second part, invited guest speakers presented the differences between NGT applications and conventional breeding. as well as an evaluation of the Commission’s study on new genetic technologies (Michael Eckerstorfer and Christof Potthof). Finally, the BfN (Margret Engelhard) summarized important aspects in the evaluation of new genetic engineering from the perspective of nature conservation. The questions in this part were mainly directed at the evaluation and regulation of gene-edited plants and the patenting of mutations.