Gene edit­ing could have pos­si­bil­i­ties

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Re­mov­ing al­ler­gens from milk, mak­ing ma¯ nuka dis­easere­sis­tant and pre­vent­ing wild­ing pines are some po­ten­tial fu­ture uses of gene edit­ing in New Zealand.

The pos­si­bil­i­ties are ex­plored in the Royal So­ci­ety Te

Apa¯ rangi’s new dis­cus­sion pa­per The use of gene edit­ing in the pri­mary in­dus­tries.

The pa­per out­lines the rel­e­vant con­sid­er­a­tions, risks and po­ten­tial ben­e­fits for five sce­nar­ios of how gene edit­ing could be used for pri­mary pro­duc­tion sec­tors in­clud­ing agri­cul­ture, forestry and hor­ti­cul­ture.

The Royal So­ci­ety Te

Apa¯ rangi said it was part of its larger Gene Edit­ing in Aotearoa project.

A mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary ex­pert panel and ref­er­ence group had been brought to­gether to ex­plore the wider so­cial, cul­tural, le­gal and eco­nomic im­pli­ca­tions of gene edit­ing in New Zealand, in­cor­po­rat­ing Ma¯ ori per­spec­tives and broader cul­tural con­texts, the so­ci­ety said.

Pro­fes­sor of Molec­u­lar Ge­net­ics at Massey Univer­sity and co-chair of the ex­pert panel, Barry Scott, said gene edit­ing tech­niques would al­low more tar­geted and pre­cise ge­netic changes than what had been pos­si­ble be­fore in crop and live­stock breed­ing.

“It’s a good time for New Zealan­ders to con­sider what gene edit­ing could of­fer our pri­mary in­dus­tries and how they’d feel about its use.”

The so­ci­ety is hold­ing three work­shops — in­clud­ing one in Napier next week — around the coun­try to dis­cuss the po­ten­tial use of gene edit­ing in the pri­mary in­dus­tries with the panel and ref­er­ence group mem­bers, and gauge New Zealan­ders’ views.

Scott said one po­ten­tial ap­pli­ca­tion of gene edit­ing would be to speed up the time it took to pro­duce new ap­ple va­ri­eties.

“New Zealand is known in­ter­na­tion­ally for our ap­ples and there is strong com­mer­cial pres­sure to de­velop new and im­proved va­ri­eties but the process is slow, be­cause it can take five years be­fore any fruit is pro­duced to start the eval­u­a­tion and test­ing of po­ten­tial new ap­ple va­ri­eties.

“Gene edit­ing could of­fer the op­por­tu­nity to tem­po­rar­ily re­move the gene that slows down flow­er­ing — so the trees would flower in eight months in­stead of five years. Once a new va­ri­ety of ap­ple with de­sir­able char­ac­ter­is­tics had been se­lected, tra­di­tional plant breed­ing would rein­tro­duce the genes that slow down flow­er­ing. This means the re­sult­ing trees sold to grow­ers would not con­tain any of the gene edit­ing changes, but would have been in­tro­duced to the mar­ket much faster than by us­ing ex­ist­ing breed­ing meth­ods.”

An­other sce­nario the pa­per dis­cusses is us­ing gene edit­ing to make ma¯ nuka re­sis­tant to disease.

Lawyer and panel mem­ber Irene Kereama-Royal said myr­tle rust and kauri dieback disease had started peo­ple think­ing about what could be done to con­serve na­tive taonga species.

“Ex­tracts of leaves and bark from ma¯ nuka have been used for cen­turies by Ma¯ ori and, with the growth in the ma¯ nuka honey in­dus­try, ma¯ nuka is now an im­por­tant plant for New Zealand both cul­tur­ally and eco­nom­i­cally.

“Should we use gene-edit­ing to cre­ate new va­ri­eties of ma¯ nuka that are re­sis­tant to disease?”

Massey Univer­sity agron­o­mist Dr James Miller said if gene edit­ing was able to help pro­tect ma¯ nuka it should be eval­u­ated.

“Ma¯ nuka is very valu­able as a pi­o­neer species af­ter dis­tur­bance caused by ero­sion or fire.

More re­cently, the high value of ma¯ nuka honey is driv­ing a lot of in­vest­ment in the honey in­dus­try, rang­ing from the es­tab­lish­ment of ma¯ nuka plan­ta­tions for honey pro­duc­tion to the ac­qui­si­tion of hives so that api­arists can in­crease col­lec­tion of nec­tar.”

A third sce­nario is to use gene edit­ing to make ex­otic conifers, such as dou­glas fir, ster­ile.

The dis­cus­sion pa­per is the third in a se­ries, which in­cludes pa­pers ex­plor­ing the po­ten­tial use of gene edit­ing for hu­man health and pest con­trol in New Zealand. All re­sources are avail­able on­line on the Royal So­ci­ety’s web­site roy­al­so­ci­ety.org.nz

■ Hawke’s Bay work­shop will be held in Napier next Mon­day, Oc­to­ber 15, from 9.45am-2.30pm, at the Napier Con­fer­ence Cen­tre.

Pro­fes­sor of Molec­u­lar Ge­net­ics at Massey Univer­sity and co-chair of the ex­pert panel, Barry Scott.

Gene edit­ing could speed up the time it takes to pro­duce new ap­ple va­ri­eties.

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