Food safety, new genomic techniques, CRISPR
The first research area, food safety and the use of new genome-editing techniques in plant breeding, responds to the anticipated challenges of food shortages and climate change. “At the same time, it builds on recent discoveries in molecular genetics that have led to advances in targeted genome editing of agricultural crops,” adds Jaroslav Doležel from the Institute of Experimental Botany of the CAS, coordinator of the CAS Strategy AV21 Foods for the Future research programme.
For a long time, European researchers have been calling for the EU to allow the option of using new methods of crop cultivation via CRISPR technology. According to Jaroslav Doležel, these ground-breaking genome-editing methods are well-researched and safe: “Given their simplicity, targeting, precision, relatively low cost, and flexibility, they represent a highly desirable and necessary tool in light of the expanding range of challenges facing the EU agricultural sector.”
In the past, the Czech Academy of Sciences also issued an expert opinion on this topic intended for legislators, entitled “Genetic Modification of Crops” (downloadable as PDF – Czech only). The topic is debated within the framework of the Academy's Strategy AV21 as part of the Foods for the Future research programme.
Will the EU greenlight new plant-breeding techniques?
David Honys, Member of the Academy Council of the CAS, answers below.
The Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS) will focus on three thematic areas during the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU. What activities are you planning as part of the research area you are coordinating?
Our main activity will be the symposium “Conference on genome editing for food safety and crop improvement”. The initiative fits into the current, more or less coordinated efforts of researchers and politicians to change the stance towards the use of crops obtained by targeted genome-editing methods, during which no foreign genetic information is introduced into the final product. We’re organising the conference in cooperation with the EU-SAGE initiative – one of the key players in informing European political elites in this area. The current overly rigid attitude towards genome-edited crops and food production is causing an ever-increasing lag behind the rest of the developed world. I believe that the joint efforts of the CAS and EU-SAGE will help change public perception of this issue. However, accomplishing this won’t be quick or easy.
The fields of research presented are also the ones which CAS institutes are involved in via the CAS Strategy AV21 research programmes. Is the choice of topics deliberate, not least in order to give them more visibility and to acquire additional forms of support, including funding?
I do not believe this to be the main criterion or goal. I consider the reasons I have described above – the urgency and topicality of the topics of focus – to be key. However, their connection to the Strategy AV21 is a positive element. Moreover, it proves that the CAS is addressing fundamental challenges that are current for today’s society.
How do you assess the scientific footprint of the Czech Republic in Europe today? How has our membership in the EU helped us in this respect?
The footprint of Czech science, but also that of the Czech Academy of Sciences as an institution, is certainly not negligible in the European Research Area, though it always could (and should) be more significant. However, we have to realize that there are still often considerable differences between the various research fields. In this respect, we cannot evaluate our membership in any other way than positively. Without intensive contact with European colleagues and without the support of the EU, the advances of Czech science would have been much slower.
Will it be more difficult in the coming months and years to promote research priorities on a pan-European scale? Or could this be, conversely, an opportunity to convince politicians to invest more resources in science and research?
The complex societal developments of recent years, marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, have shown the importance of scientific research and the rapid application of its results. This has also revealed the dangers of too one-sided orientation of energy resources and other aspects important for a sustainable functioning of European society. It is precisely the increasing energy and agricultural self-sufficiency of Europe and the associated changes in systematic structures that comprise a major goal for the European scientific community. I believe that it will not only attract the interest of politicians in our results but will also increase willingness to invest more in obtaining them.
DATE: 13–14 October 2022
LOCATION: Hotel Andaz Prague, Senovážné náměstí 976/31, Prague 1, (https://goo.gl/maps/dBJCm8dDM9dMUCMq8)
PROGRAMME: will be revealed soon.
Should you have any questions or would like to contact the organiser, please, do not hesitate to do so via the contacts below.
Official conference e-mail: email@example.com
of the Czech Academy of Sciences
Mgr. Kateřina Cagalová
Department of Protocol
Centre of Administration and Operations
of the Czech Academy of Sciences
+420 703 177 87