The biotech companies BASF and Cibus have developed oilseed rape and canola with a technique called RTDS (Rapid Trait Development System).
GMWatch comment, 2 July 2013
According to Cibus, RTDS is based on altering a targeted gene by utilizing the cell’s own gene repair system to specifically modify the gene sequence in situ and not insert foreign DNA and gene expression control sequences. The Gene Repair Oligonucleotide (GRON) that effects this change is a chemically synthesized oligonucleotide, a short, single-stranded DNA or RNA molecule.
There's more about the RTDS method here:
Cibus markets its RTDS crops as non-transgenic and as produced "without the insertion of foreign DNA into plants". Cibus adds that this form of trait development is "quicker to market with less regulatory expense".
Cibus says of the RTDS method that it is "all natural", has "none of the health and environmental risks associated with transgenic breeding", and "yields predictable outcomes in plants".
We discussed Cibus's claims and the RTDS method with scientists and other groups to assess whether or not it is still genetic modification and if it's really safer and more predictable than transgenic GM.
Here's a summary of points that emerged from the discussion:
*GM is a process, not a gene-based definition. RTDS can and should be described as genetic modification as it alters the genome in a manner that would not occur naturally through breeding or genetic recombination, even though no transgene is inserted.
*In addition, RTDS still involves tissue culture that would introduce genome-wide mutations, some or all of which (if vegetatively propagated, eg potatoes) will be present in the final marketed product. Also, there could be off-target effects from the targeting oligonucleotide. These would need to be evaluated via whole genome sequencing.
*Finally, even changing a single gene, especially one encoding an enzyme, can have dramatic biochemical disturbances in addition to what is intended.
*Thus RTDS is a gene modification process, albeit a targeted one. Any crops or other organisms produced this way must be treated in exactly the same way as a crop containing a transgene, with thorough evaluation of outcomes and safety. Certainly RTDS would be considered as GM under current EU law, though companies using the technique will lobby against this.
It is, however, gratifying to see Cibus, a biotech company, acknowledge the imprecision of standard transgenic GM!