Permits for new field trials with genome-edited maize
The federal authorities in Belgium have granted permission to perform three new field trials with genome-edited maize. With the field trials, VIB scientists hope to confirm that these maize plants are more resilient to climate stress and better digestible when exposed to actual field conditions.
The effects of climate change have a major impact on agriculture. Crops are subjected to more prolonged periods of drought and exposed to increasing amounts of DNA-damaging UV rays, to name some examples. These conditions cause stress, which hampers proper development of the plants and reduces crop yields. To safeguard our future food supply, agriculture is in need of climate-resistant solutions.
Maize varieties for sustainable food production systems
The approved field trials will be conducted in close collaboration with the Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (ILVO) and are part of research projects running at the VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology: the group of Prof. Hilde Nelissen, who aims for maize varieties that are more resistant to prolonged periods of drought; the lab of Prof. Lieven De Veylder investigates how to increase stress-resilience when the plants experience DNA-damage caused by environmental conditions; and research done by the team of Prof. Wout Boerjan in developing better digestible plants and plant-based products to support a bio-based economy.
The field trials will be performed over a three-year time period. The maize plants in these studies are generated via the precision breeding technique CRISPR-Cas9, which allows targeted modifications in the plant’s genetic material. By means of field trials, the effect of the genetic alterations on the complete life cycle of the plant can be estimated, in real agricultural growth conditions. The trials were authorized by three federal ministers for Health, Environment, and Agriculture after favorable opinions from the Biosafety Advisory Council. Having access to precision breeding methods based on genome editing is considered to be very important for the future of agriculture, as it can speed up the development of crops with climate resistance or other characteristics that improve the sustainability of our food systems.