Examination of Witnesses

Part of Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:01 pm on 28th June 2022.

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Alessandro Coatti:

The case that Robin used before is quite important, where you think about adding multiple changes to genes in the same organism. The Bill covers plants and animals, but it does not cover micro-organisms, which are an interesting aspect that we can discuss later. You also really have to think about the fact that the dynamics of the genomic changes in different organisms are different, just like the way they reproduce is different. The type of gene flow that you would see in plants is different from the one you would see in animals.

The case that Robin was discussing of adding multiple changes in neighbouring genes in an animal is harder, through traditional breeding, than it has been in plants. For example, you can mutagenise into this very big screening. You might get to that point faster in plants than in animals. Perhaps the fast pace where this technology now allows development is not, as you say, either a morally or a practically neutral question. It is interesting that the Government have decided to frame it as something that could have arisen through traditional breeding or spontaneously. There is a reason why that is. However, at some point, it becomes a bit stretched, because in traditional breeding it would take many generations, and it would be quite hard to do it in certain animals.

However, this is again talking about the techniques. When it comes to adding those two traits in neighbouring genes, you might end up actually making the life of the animal way better. That is why you look at the outcomes. By using genome editing, people have corrected genetic defects that have arisen traditionally in breeding, for example of cattle. There is this Japanese breed of cattle that has a genetic syndrome. With genome editing, they corrected it because it was due to a single gene. In fact, even if it were very unlikely that you might have done it with traditional breeding, it is a very valuable use and we should do that because it enhances the welfare and the health of the animal.