Gene editing for crop improvement: the quest for a science based policy making

All that we eat does not occur in nature and is the product of plant breeding. For a long time this process was empirical. In the last centuries various innovations have accelerated the development of improved crops. These include, amongst others, the use of mutagenesis, hybrids, tissue culture, molecular markers, genomic selection and the introduction of novel traits by genetic engineering. Much of the recent advances were aided by the spectacular progress in understanding plant genomes and the molecular networks underlying important agronomic traits. In 2012 a new breeding technology, gene editing or CRIPSR-Cas, emerged. This amazing, Nobel-Prize winning, method allows for making very specific changes in the genome of plants, ultimately indistinguishable from what can be obtained by conventional breeding. Whereas already a large number of countries adopted this technology for crop improvement, a ruling of the European Court of Justice (2018) classified plants obtained by gene editing as GMOs, hereby de facto jeopardizing the deployment of CRISPR-Cas in Europe. Importantly, scientists all over Europe have expressed deep concerns on the ECJ ruling and called for revisiting the use of gene editing for crop improvement, a process that is now ongoing in the EU. However, it is pivotal that the scientific community continues to emphasize the crucial role of gene editing for selection of climate resilient crop varieties with a reduced environmental foot print (less pesticides). There is an urgent need for more science-informed policy making!