The EU has rolled up its sleeves for new restrictions on pesticide use. It is aimed to reduce the use of pesticide by half as of 2030. Since Germen wheat producers apply fungicides more than twice a year to winter wheat (average treatment frequency 2019: 2.19), it can be easily predicted how pesticide use restrictions may cause a damage to wheat productions. Additionally, some of the fungicides commonly used today will probably lose their approvals in the next few years and there are no better new active ingredients in sight.
In European agriculture, fungicides used generally to prevent fungal diseases, like yellow rust, brown rust, septoria and fusarium. Genotypes that are tolerant or resistant to the mentioned diseases can also be developed by conventional plant breeding technique with 10-15 years of work. However, New Breeding Techniques (NBT) – genome editing methods can save considerable time for plant breeders . Since 2010, this process has begun to be carried out in laboratories by molecular basis, with genomic arrangements. In this method, genotypes can be registered in a short time and reach the producers. Genome editing includes a number of new gene engineering methods such as CRISPR/Cas9. In these procedures, there is no transfer of any gene from outside like there is in GMOs. On the contrary, new genotypes are created by silencing the targeted gene with the applied temporary DNA cutting enzymes, increasing and decreasing its effect. It is simply an artificial micro-mutation run in laboratories.
In Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), ie transgenic varieties, a gene has been transferred from another species or varieties. For registration of new genotypes as commercial variety, they have to pass many risk tests such as environment and health. Tests expenses cost to the company not less than 100 million dollars. Therefore, the GMO method has almost become synonymous with global multinational seed companies. On the contrary, the costs of developing genotype with NBT are at a level that can be covered even by low-budget new entrepreneurs, universities and public institutions.
The GMO method is not gaining admission in many countries such as the EU. NBT is also accepted in the same category despite its basic differences. While the gene in question here comes from a different species in the GMO’s, the modification in new breeding procedures takes place within the plant’s own genes. The advantages of the method enabled many new plant variety candidates developed in a short time to reach the registration stages.
The subject attracted the attention of the scientific world and number of projects on NBT were determined by scanning around 6000 publications to make an inventory of studies on this subject: China (599), ABD (487), Germany (88), Japan (25), France (25), Israel (24), U.Kingdom (21), S.Arabia (18), Holland (18). According to this research, China and the USA seem to be ahead of this issues with hundreds of studies. Although gene regulations are legally subject to the same legislation as GMOs, dozens of studies in EU countries are continuing.
The rapid spread in gene editing applications naturally comes to the fore in field crops planted in large areas with high economy. As a matter of fact, while paddy 29, corn 10, potato 6, wheat 6, soy 4 and rapeseed 4 take the first place. Research projects continue in many fruits and vegetables, including orange to fig, tomato to lettuce and even ornamental plants. Some of them have reached to final stage like seedless tomato in Japan; low fatty soy in the USA; herbicides resistant flax in Canada; low-gluten wheat in Spain; different color petunia in South Korea etc.
Recently Germany’s 60 plant breeder companies, both small and large, have come together to develop fungal disease tolerant-resistant wheat genotypes by using new breeding techniques and started the PILTON project in 2020. It can be easily understood that such a sophisticated breakthrough emerged from need. However, the coming together of these companies was due to their being gathered under the umbrella “Bundesverband Deutscher Pflanzenzüchter e. V. ” (German Plant Breeders Association).
However, there is a big problem that occupies the minds of the project executives. The same treatment of new breeding techniques with genetically modified crops (GMOs) in the testing and registration processes at certain stages of breeding in the EU. In this case, millions of Euros will be required for testing candidate genotypes, such as GMOs. In this case, it is a fact that small-scale companies cannot afford these costs. As it is known, the varieties developed with NBT were tested and registered in many countries, especially in the USA, not within the scope of GMO, but according to the regulations applied in the variety candidates developed with classical breeding. So, what does PILTON project management say about this situation?
“We believe that we can achieve a clear and practical project with an interesting plant, with an interesting property and with real added value for the farmer, but also for society show that rethinking makes sense. So, we also want to work politically”.