New genetic engineering techniques pose numerous risks

GMWatch 12 August 2020

A new scientific paper published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe gives an overview of the risks associated with gene-editing procedures (new genetic engineering) for plants and animals. The risks are not restricted to the wide range of unintended effects that can be triggered by the process of gene editing. There are also risks associated with the intended biological characteristics generated through gene editing.

Gene-editing techniques, in particular those using the CRISPR/Cas “gene scissors”, increase the possibilities and speed with which the genomes of plants and animals can be altered. It does not matter whether additional genes are introduced into the genome or not. Small genetic modifications are often performed in combination and can cause significant changes in metabolic pathways and plant composition. The study concludes that the novel, intended properties must be thoroughly tested, even if no additional genes are inserted.

Furthermore, the study provides a systematic overview of unintended effects that are specific to the use of gene editing. Errors triggered by the process are found “off-target” at sites in the genome other than the target site, and also in the region of the target site, “on target”. These effects include, for example, the misreading of DNA which can lead to changes in protein composition, unintended insertion of DNA sequences, deletions and rearrangements of DNA. Again, all these genetic errors can arise whether or not genes are inserted.

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