The European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO) welcomes the ongoing European Commission (EC) study on new genomic techniques (NGTs). These are defined as techniques capable of changing the genetic material of an organism, which have emerged or have been developed since 2001. In this statement, EPSO refers specifically to genome editing leading via mutagenesis (point mutations or other modifications existing in nature) in plants and products obtained thereby.

EPSO members remarked that the implementation of GMO legislation with regard to NGTs did not cause any major technical obstacles, but represents a major administrative and financial burden, leads to increasing space constraints in GMO facilities, drastically reduces the number of field experiments, causes problems with the status of incoming germplasm, and has a negative impact on funding and on bringing products to the market.

Despite these constraints, fundamental and applied research on NGTs and NGT products is still blooming in Europe and concerns over 50 plant species. Although the ECJ ruling of 2018 led to widespread demotivation and reduced funding, efforts continue to increase the range of species and of genotypes in which NGTs can be applied, to further enrich the binding and/or cutting features of Cas9-like enzymes, and to generate the knowledge needed to improve traits by NGTs. A research gap exists in the comparison of NGTs to older techniques with a history of safe use.

NGTs and NGT products present numerous benefits and opportunities since they are a tool of choice to address major challenges to agriculture in Europe and worldwide, such as the overuse of pesticides and inputs, climate change, crop monocultures, and the desire for improved food and feed. NGTs can contribute to meeting and managing these challenges by enhancing genetic progress towards more diverse, better adapted, and yet high-yielding plant varieties.

EPSO did not note any specific concerns on NGTs or NGT products but identified obvious challenges. The detection of NGTs in foreign germplasm and products is not feasible, SMEs are not able to play a notable role due to the high cost of licence fees and of regulatory approval, and patents on NGTs and NGT traits raise questions on access to NGT technology and its coexistence with plant variety rights. Safety concerns should not differ from those relevant to plants obtained using methods with a history of safe use, because NGT mutations could also arise in nature or during conventional breeding programs. Off-target events can easily be reduced to a level similar to that of spontaneous mutations occurring during natural plant reproduction in conventional breeding.

The real question on ethical aspects is not whether NGTs or NGT products as such are acceptable, but whether the use we make of them supports commonly accepted values and avoids harm to humans and the environment. It would be ethically problematic to reject NGTs having beneficial traits, provided they are not considered to pose a higher risk to humans or the environment than similar varieties developed by conventional methods.

 With regard to consumers’ right for information and freedom of choice, EPSO is opposed to obligatory labelling because it implies that NGT products as such are harmful or problematic, could not be enforced, and would lead to both labelling and non-labelling of identical products. Voluntary labelling has the advantage of giving voice to different types of values, maintaining information levels equal to all actors, and taking into account various lifestyle choices.

NGTs and NGT-products have a role to play in the European Farm-to-Fork strategy by ensuring sustainable food production and the shift to healthy, sustainable diets, for example through disease resistant crops, reducing pesticide use, and allergen-free food that promotes human health. They can also contribute to implement the European Biodiversity strategy by improving the performance and nutritional content of underutilised fruit, vegetable and cereal crops and thereby substantially increase diversity of cultivated crops.

Click here to read: Full EPSO statement 27.5.2020, EPSO submission to the EC 13.5.2020, EPSO Reference list submitted to the EC 13.5.2020

Contacts:

  • Peter Rogowsky, INRAE, FR & EPSO AgT WG chair
  • Frank Hartung & Ralf Wilhelm, Julius Kühn-Institute (JKI), DE & EPSO AgT WG chairs
  • Karin Metzlaff, EPSO, BE

 

The Research and Technology Organisation Association Lithuania (RTO Lithuania) and The Lithuanian Research Development and Innovation Liaison Office in Brussels (LINO). would like to invite you to the webinar: Post-COVID Green Deal Technology-Powered Recovery in Europe, which will take place on the 2nd of June 2020, 14-15 CET.

How COVID-19 pandemic will affect European Green Deal? Will EU recovery be sustainable and technology-powered? On these and other urgent issues we will speak with three guest speakers:

Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries

Prof. Antti Vasara, President of EARTO, President & CEO of VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland

Prof. Gintaras Valušis, EARTO and RTO Lithuania board member, Director of Center for Physical Sciences and Technology, Lithuania

If you are interested, do not hesitate to register. The webinar will be organised via Zoom with a total amount of 100 people. You can do that by clicking on this link: https://tinyurl.com/greendealwebinar.

TOMRES is a Horizon 2020 project offering “A novel and integrated approach to increase multiple and combined stress tolerance in plants using tomato as a model”.

It aims to reduce N and P application by at least 20%, water input by 40%, while granting environmental sustainability and economic viability of the solutions proposed through novel genotypes X management strategies.

This relies on selecting rootstocks and scions tolerating both water and nutrient stress; as well as novel traits,  in particular belowground, for a breeding exploitation. Furthermore, studying the role of selected hormones, such as strigolactones and brassinosteroids, could allow to identify further resilience traits. Laboratory research is complemented by analysis of environmental  and of socio-economic impact to build a decision support system.

TOMRES has published two videos to explain to the general public its project as it is close to an end, especially focusing on the role of tomatoes in creating a sustainable crop for global production:

More scientific details are available on TOMRES website

Please disseminate these videos through your networks to scientists, companies, farmers and the general public.

ERC Advanced Grant support established, leading principal investigator who can demonstrate a ground-breaking nature, ambition and feasibility of their scientific proposal.

The call is open to any field and nationality. It offers up to a maximum of EUR 2 500 000 for a period of 5 years.

Up to an additional EUR 1 000 000 can be requested in the proposal to cover (a) eligible “start-up” costs for Principal Investigators moving to the EU or an Associated Country from elsewhere as a consequence of receiving the ERC grant and/or (b) the purchase of major equipment and/or (c) access to large facilities and/or (d) other major experimental and field work costs, excluding personnel costs. (As any additional funding is to cover major one-off costs it is not subject to pro-rata temporis reduction for projects of shorter duration. All funding requested is assessed during evaluation).

Deadline for application: 26 August 2020

Source : EC , 14.05.2020

EPSO presents its work on the contributions of plant science to Food and Nutritional Security, Human Health and environmental sustainability, EPSO’s activities in science advice to policy towards the Horizon Europe Strategic Plan and on Agricultural Technologies, and science support. Make best use of our series of national plant research structure and funding for your bilateral collaborations, in this issue we feature Norway.

The shorter public version of the Newsletter is available here.
Please, log in and read the full version available in the Members’ Only section.

 

The table of content

Editorial
EPSO challenges and contributions in 2020 and beyond

EPSO activities

  • EPSO advises on science policy: Research and innovation strategies; Agricultural technologies
  • EPSO holds General Meeting 2020 as 9 Regional GM meetings on 2-3.7.2020
  • EPSO Young Plant Scientist Award 2020
  • Call for EPSO Internship Experts and PhD student trainees
  • Fascination of Plants Day — prepare for FoPD 2021 around the world
  • Agricultural solutions for wheat with down-to-earth innovation
  • Nutritional Security Working Group
  • Plants and Microbiomes Working Group 3rd workshop 13-14.1.2021
  • Plant Biology Europe 2020 conference postponed to 28.6.-1.7.2021
  • EPSO Team update

Members’ news

  • CHIC – A game changer for inulin and terpene production
  • TOMRES — increasing water and nutrient use efficiency in tomato
  • CropBooster-P project — towards better equipped crop plants
  • The second Call of SusCrop funds research in sustainable crop production
  • A Common Digital Space for the Life Sciences
  • CRAG has been awarded a MSCA-COFUND Fellowship programme
  • LIFEGENMON Final Conference in Ljubljana / Slovenia, 21–25.9.2020
  • Herbarium genomics
  • Can viruses help us defend plant health?
  • SILESIA, a novel flax cultivar relevant to human health
  • Visibility of European Research Infrastructures
  • Agricultural Systems of the Future and food4future (f4f)
  • PhD fellowship programme RESPONSE – to society and policy needs through plant, food and energy sciences”
  • Plant Science Experiments, an E-book for children and teenagers
  • 19th International Conference “Life Sciences for Sustainable Development”
  • 2nd Cologne Conference on Food for Future13-14.9.2021

National, European and global funding

  • Norway
  • Horizon Europe

Career opportunities and (postponed) meetings
About EPSO

Contacts: Alexandra Barnoux & Karin Metzlaff, EPSO

Plant research and innovation can contribute through three main paths to achieve Nutritional Security (NS):

  1. Underutilised nutritious fruit and vegetable crops: improve their economic performance and further increase their nutritional quality – emerging over the past years and providing co-benefits in terms of NS and sustainable environment – the focus of this statement.
  2. Biofortification: increasing micronutrients in staple crops and / or enriching compounds enhancing the bioavailability of micronutrients – a strategy developed over the past decade which needs to be continued for consumers depending on or preferring staple crop products.
  3. Supplements: adding beneficial compounds during food processing for the end product – the most common strategy until now, but the mainly chemically synthesised compounds need to be replaced by their natural counterparts in future, e.g.  from niche crops or agri-food side-products.

Plant based foods are receiving a remarkable attention during the last decades in the research field of nutrition, due to the biological activities recognized for many classes of phytochemicals and the relevance that food security topics are obtaining in European countries. The availability and accessibility to nutritionally rich food sources are hallmarks for human health and wellbeing, that is why many efforts are being directed towards old and new generations of plant crops. At multiple levels, EPSO and scientists involved in the Nutritional Security (NS) working group are discussing the best strategies to increase the content in beneficial biocompounds in the daily diet of European consumers.

  1.  First level: Re-discovering underused species and landraces of fruits, vegetables and staple crops
  2. Second level: Use of new metabolic engineering / new breeding technologies to re-design high quality crops.
  3. Third level: Promoting co-developing improved crops and agricultural management practices and post-harvest processes for these to keep or even enhance nutritional quality in the fresh and transformed products.
  4. Fourth level: Linking the concept of diverse diets enriched in different classes of nutritionally active biocompounds with the prevention of human diseases.
  5. Fifth level: Linking the concept of diverse diets to human health AND environmental benefits.

This underpins the recommendation by plant scientists to develop ‘diverse crops with diverse cropping systems for diverse diets and human health and resilient production’ as a multi-disciplinary and cross-sectorial approach to achieve Nutritional Security and Environmental Sustainability as co-benefits.

The draft statement will be further discussed at the next EPSO NS Workshop early 2021 and then finalised. Contact the authors by end June to express your interest to participate in this workshop.

Click here to read the full EPSO draft statement

Contacts:

  • Angelo Santino, CNR, IT & EPSO NS WG chair
  • Monika Schreiner, IGZ Grossbeeren, DE & EPSO NS WG chair
  • Chiara Tonelli, University of Milano & EPSO NS WG chair
  • Karin Metzlaff, EPSO, BE