According to researchers from South Korea, a twist on a revolutionary gene-editing technique might make it possible to modify plant genomes while sidestepping national biosafety regulations.

Plant scientists have been quick to experiment with the popular CRISPR/Cas9 technique, which uses an enzyme called Cas9, guided by two RNA strands, to precisely cut segments of DNA in a genome. By disabling specific genes in wheat and rice, for example, researchers hope to make disease-resistant strains.

But the process can introduce bits of foreign DNA into plant genomes. And some jurisdictions, such as the European Union, could decide to classify such plants as genetically modified organisms — making their acceptance by regulatory bodies contentious, says geneticist Jin-Soo Kim of Seoul National University.

Kim and his team tweaked the technique so that it can delete specific plant genes without introducing foreign DNA, creating plants that he and his colleagues think “might be exempt from current GMO regulations.”

“In terms of science, our approach is just another improvement in the field of genome editing,” says Kim. “However, in terms of regulations and public acceptance, our method could be path-breaking.” Source: Nature.com.

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