A decade after it was discovered, India has allowed genome-edited plants without the cumbersome GMO regulation at the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC). On Wednesday, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change issued a notification regarding the issue, which experts say will allow usage of this technology for the development of better crop variants.
Wednesday’s notification has exempted Site Directed Nuclease (SDN) 1 and 2 genomes and instead it would rely on reports of the Institutional Bio Safety Committee (IBSC) to exclude exogenous genetic material. Following this, the matter would come under the exiting purview of Seed Acts and other relevant Acts.
Genome edited plants are different from genetically modified organisms (GMO) technology as the former allows for the generation of functional mutations in the recipient genome at specific targets. While SDN 1 and 2 do not involve the introduction of foreign DNA, SDN3 involves the introduction of foreign DNA making it typical of GMO development. In the case of SDN1 and SDN2, yield plants are free from any foreign DNA and remain indistinguishable from conventionally bred crops.
Last year, a group of eminent agriculture scientists write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for ease of release of genome editing technology for the sector. Concerns about this technology being clubbed with that of GM technology had worried the sector, which would have prevented the early release of beneficial variants. In the case of GM technology, applicants have to apply to the GEAC, which has its own set of the testing following which state governments also file their say. To date, cotton is the only GM crop that has managed to make it through the regulatory red tape in India.
Bhagirath Chowdhary of the South Asia Biotechnology Centre welcomed the move. “The notification exempting SDN1/SDN2 category of genome-edited plants from cumbersome GMO regulation at GEAC level will incentivise breeders and researchers to harness the power of genome editing for the welfare of the farming community. With this notification, SDN1/SDN2 category plants will be initially regulated by IBSC/RCGM under EPA Rules 1989 and subsequently under the Seed act under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare—a unique duel regulatory system ensuring biosafety and benefits of technology,” he said.