Agroscope gets the green light to start field trial with gene scissors

20 February 2024 09:30

Zurich CCGreater Zurich

Zurich - This spring, Agroscope will launch a field trial with spring barley in which genetic scissors will be used to disable a certain gene. The aim here is to demonstrate whether these mutations lead to an increased yield. The Federal Office for the Environment has approved the experiment on Agroscope's protected site subject to certain conditions.

This spring, Agroscope is set to launch a field trial focused on spring barley at its Protected Site in Zurich-Reckenholz, which will run for around three years. The aim here is to find out whether the barley yield can be increased by switching off one or both of the copies of the plant’s CKX2 gene, further details of which can be found in a press release issued by Agroscope, which is the competence center for agricultural research of the Swiss federal government (Federal Council). Research projects in other countries have already shown that this technique works for both rice and oilseed rape.

In addition to the question of possible yield increases, the first Swiss field trial focused on genome editing in barley is intended to clarify, among other aspects, whether switching off the gene copies leads to any additional ramifications. Moreover, the researchers from Agroscope are also convinced that the knowledge gained in the field trial can also be applied to other types of barley and other grain variants.

Although the mutation caused by the CRISPR/Cas9 gene scissors can also occur naturally, the seedlings used in the experiment are considered to be genetically modified plants. The field trial therefore had to be signed off by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), which gave the go-ahead on February 15, 2024, subject to certain conditions being met. Agroscope is obliged to undertake measures to ensure that “no genetically modified material can spread outside the test site”, as FOEN writes in a press release of its own. ce/hs

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