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Reporting on the First NIB Specialist Meeting: Genome Editing and the Future of Farming

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On the 6th September The Roslin Institute opened its doors to an array of delegates from the worlds of research, industry and policy to discuss genome editing and its role in the future of farming.

The global challenge of food security is time critical as we will need to produce 70% more food by 2050 without destroying the environment. Innovations in food production techniques are urgently required. Editing the genomes of crops and livestock offers new possibilities to address this complex issue.

The day kicked off with Wayne Powell (newly appointed Principal of SRUC, formally director of CGIAR) who set the scene and stressed the message of why people were gathered: the need to produce more food for a growing population with limited resources. The floor then went to Bruce Whitelaw who presented the latest gene editing technologies and how they are being used at The Roslin Institute to improve the productivity and welfare of livestock species. Next, Jonathan Lightner from Genus spoke about the opportunities and challenges of gene editing for the biotechnology industry, highlighting the evolving regulatory framework and the need for public acceptance.

nib2After lunch Helen Sang (Roslin Institute) chaired a session in which four speakers presented  examples of their work on genome editing in poultry (Tim Doran, CSIRO), pigs (Bhanu Telugu, University of Maryland) and cattle (Goetz Laible, AgResearch and Steven Kemp, ILRI). From instilling disease resistance to removing allergens in eggs and milk, lots of exciting possibilities are emerging to feed more people better.  The two panel sessions that followed gave delegates the chance to input into the debate and quiz the panellists. The first session, chaired by Federica Di Palma (Earlham Institute), focused on advances in genome annotation and featured the following panel members: Wesley Warren (Washington University), Dirk-Jan De Koning (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Alan Archibald and John Hickey (The Roslin Institute). There was a general consensus that although the cost of sequencing is coming down the cost of analysing and interpreting the data isn’t. Funding such efforts effectively will be key for the available genetic engineering technologies to reach their potential.

The second panel session focused on the regulation and public acceptance of genome editing and featured: Elisabeth Waigmann (EFSA), Alison Van Eenennaam (UC Davies), Huw Jones (IBERS) and Laura Bellingan (Royal Society of Biology). This lively session chaired by James Smith (University of Edinburgh) covered a host of issues. One of the take home messages was that society, systems (regulatory and funding) and science are all important for the implementation of the technology and that direct engagement between scientists and the public will be key to build the trust needed to move things forwards.

Following the meeting articles from the speakers and panellists will be published in an open access journal.

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The National Institutes would like to thank the OECD Co-operative Research Programme: Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems who kindly sponsored this event.