Gene editing could have possibilities
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.