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CRISPR-Cas 9 is the new genetic improvement frontier

GMOs? Ancient history. Cisgenesis? That's almost over. The new frontier is the CRISPR-Cas 9 technique. On 6th December, Compagnia delle Opere organised a convention titled "No to GMOs, yes to Cisgenesis? What are the opportunities for the Italian food and agricultural sector?" Professor Fabio Veronesi, who teaches agricultural genetics and varietal improvement at the University of Perugia, was the speaker. 

Fabio Veronesi and Angelo Frascarelli

"The 'traditional' GMO technique has been obsolete for quite some time. There are innovations that I believe could be accepted by anyone as they do not involve crossing genes from different kingdoms, they actually enable the improvement of the genetic heritage within the same species."


But we must not forget that soy and corn GMO crops, for example, have reached 180 million hectares, i.e. six times the surface of Italy. Cultivating GMO plants is forbidden in Italy, but we all eat GMO food every day, both omnivores (as animals are fed with transgenic soy or corn) and vegetarians. 


Cisgenic organisms are obtained from sexually compatible species. It is a very quick technique, and therefore it is less expensive than traditional breeding programmes.

With the CRISPR-Cas 9 technique, the DNA is broken down through enzymes to eliminate the gene that, for example, makes plants susceptible to Monilia, thus generating a resistant plant. It is like taking away the weak link in a chain. Who could oppose this technique?

"I don't know. I am definitely in favour of it. Politics needs to do something, because the situation at the moment is very weird, as plants obtained with the CRISPR-Cas 9 technique are not recognisable from those obtained with a traditional breeding programme. But Directive 2001/18/EC could include and therefore forbid such techniques. We are talking about a law introduced 15 years ago, which is ancient history for what concerns genetics. In the US, CRISPR-Cas 9 is already used to obtain the so-called biological medicinal products." 

The convention was moderated by professor Angelo Frascarelli and fifty entrepreneurs from all over Italy attended. Professor Daniele Bassi from the University of Milan also spoke.

Camillo Gardini (in the photo above), president of Compagnia delle Opere, reminded everyone that a Forum will be held in Milano Marittima on 27th and 28th January 2017. More info at
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