The discovery and application of molecular scissors, such as CRISPR/Cas, represented a technical breakthrough in biotechnology. These powerful tools now enable scientists to modify organisms and their characteristics in a much more targeted and comprehensive way. However, new technologies also bring new challenges in risk assessment. This is especially true if a genetically modified organism is to be released into the environment, or products derived thereof are to be approved for marketing.
The FGU undertakes related horizon scanning, i. e. it researches and evaluates both published and other specialist literature. Its aim is to identify and analyse from the perspective of the precautionary principle early signs of the potential environmental impact of new technical developments, and their applications in the field of genetic engineering/biotechnology.
Besides researching and comparing societal and political discourse, the FGU researches and compares evaluation categories for genome editing and synthetic biology procedures, both in Europe and globally.
The FGU is currently researching and working on two projects.
In the first project, “Risk hypotheses in relation to the environmental impact of genome-edited crops“, the FGU is using horizon scanning to generate a current overview of the global development status of plants modified with new genomic techniques (NGTs), including their properties, areas of application and the biotechnological processes involved. Focal points include genetically engineered disease resistance and adaptation to environmental stresses, such as frost, salt and drought. Possible pathways of ecological risk in the cultivation of NGT plants (risk hypotheses) are derived from selected case studies. In addition, this project includes examining the extent to which current risk assessment guidelines for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) adequately take these risks into account.
The aim of the second project “Knowledge transfer in connection with new genomic techniques (NGT) and nature conservation” is to provide information to the interested public, political decision-makers and multipliers in the media and education, and thus promote an informed debate on the environmental impact of NGTs and synthetic biology. This includes firstly determining the information needs of the various target groups, and subsequently preparing selected scientific content, which is then made available in suitable formats.
The results of both projects are available on the FGU website, including articles in scientific journals, short summaries, videos and interactive graphics.
The PAG works alongside the project and acts as an advisory body to the FGU. Members of the PAG include civil society organisations and environmental associations concerned with the consequences of NGT applications and biotechnology in agricultural systems, seed and food production, environmental protection and nature conservation, as well as scientists from the fields of nature conservation and genetic engineering. It thus acts as an input provider. The FGU is responsible for the actual scientific processing of the issues.
This projects is led by Testbiotech e.V., Institute for Independent Impact Assessment in Biotechnology.
Funding is provided by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) from the REFOPLAN of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, grant numbers 3522840500 and 3522842000.
For current information regarding FGU employees see → here
For FGU results between 2017-2022 see → here