The award honours a discovery made in basic research on bacteria, which has led to transformative applications in the plant and medical sciences. It is the first Nobel prize to be shared by two women.
In plant science, genome editing enables scientists and breeders to improve the whole range of plants, from fruit, fibre, and vegetable crops to legumes, cereals, and trees, on which people depend for food, health, and livelihoods. The method enables diversity enhancement and precise, targeted improvements leading to better nutritional quality, disease resistance, stress tolerance, and environmental sustainability for rapid advancement through breeding to farmers’ use. Even underutilised crops, on which critical-mass breeding efforts have not so far focused, due to their poor market share compared to the time and effort needed to improve them with classical methods, will benefit from the new genomic techniques. The resulting crops will contribute to environmental sustainability, very important in light of climate change, as well as to diverse diets and human health.
Plant scientists call upon policy makers to improve European legislation, so that the potential of genome editing to improve underutilised crops is unfettered from the substantial time and financial burden of the GM legislation to which it is currently tied. If genome-edited plants were only subject to the standard legislation any new plant variety has to follow, the diversity of cultivated crops as a whole, a main target of the European Biodiversity strategy for 2030, would be substantially increased.
Finally, the application of genome editing to neglected and medicinal species will help to explore and secure biodiversity, demonstrating its value by revealing the metabolic pathways of a large variety of bioactive secondary metabolites, which may for example have high potential in fighting against new diseases or against antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Click here to read: Full EPSO statement 07.10.2020, Nobel Prize PR, 07.10.2020
- Alan Schulman, LUKE, FI & EPSO President
- Angelo Santino, CNR, IT & EPSO Nutritional Security WG co-chair
- Frank Hartung, JKI, DE & EPSO Agricultural Technologies WG co-chair
- Kirsi-Marja Oksman-Caldentey, VTT, FI & EPSO Molecular Farming WG co-chair
- Karin Metzlaff, EPSO