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12/2015
KWS in dialogue
Information update for decision-makers
Precise methods.
Nature-identical results.
Currently there ...
In 2050, nearly ten billion people will populate our planet –
almost twice as many as in 1990.
Feeding the growing world p...
The evolution
of plant breeding
The history of plant breeding started with selecting plants with
especially desired traits...
1980s
Genetic engineering
With the help of genetic engineering,
genes from species that cannot be
cross-bred naturally are...
The next step:
nature-identical results
Writing the next chapter: highly precise breeding methods
allow for results nature...
The new methods are the topic of
political discussion. According to the
EU Directive 2001/18, an organism is
to be rated a...
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KWS in Dialogue Newsletter December 2015

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In the current issue (December 2015) the newsletter focuses on the debate about new plant breeding techniques.

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KWS in Dialogue Newsletter December 2015

  1. 1. 12/2015 KWS in dialogue Information update for decision-makers Precise methods. Nature-identical results. Currently there is a debate in Europe about new plant breeding techniques. At its heart stands the question about the regulatory evaluation of those new methods. 12/2015 To make an assessment under existing laws, it is important to differentiate among the various methods. Some can be classified as genetic engineer- ing. Others are comparable to tradi- tional breeding: they maintain the spe- cies barrier and result in plants that could have also occurred naturally, which makes them nature-identical as products. KWS SAAT SE advocates those latter methods being evaluated as conven- tional breeding methods. The nature- identical results lead us to the basic conviction that plants should be jugded by their characteristics and by their concrete properties when used as food for humans and as animal feed, as well as by their interaction with the environment. The proper assessment of the new methods and an appropriate classification of products using these new methods is a prerequisite to fostering development in plant breeding in Germany and Europe, with breeding being an integral part of sustainable and modern agriculture. The new methods offer a new perspec- tive for plant breeding – especially in Europe. We are convinced that with these methods we will embark upon a path that meets the demands of cur- rent political and societal realities.
  2. 2. In 2050, nearly ten billion people will populate our planet – almost twice as many as in 1990. Feeding the growing world population poses an enormous challenge for the global farming community and the global agricultural business. More than ever before, sustainable land use is key, along with stable and reliable yield. Plant breeding makes a significant contribution to that goal. Crops like corn, wheat or potatoes have been feeding mankind for many centuries. Changing environments and lifestyles have challenged mankind again and again to use the knowledge of their time to adapt agriculture to their nutritional needs. New breeding methods provide a unique opportunity going forward. Their robustness and simplicity will significantly speed up the development and release of new, well adapted, stable and high yielding crop varieties. They will mitigate the ever increasing problems with pests, diseases, droughts and soil degradation triggered by climate change and help secure global food production in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices. The task Development of the World Population (in billion people) Global Food Production (Number of people who will need to be fed per hectare of arable land) 1950 3 2000 6 2050 10 2 1950 2000 2050 5 7 Sources: UN World Population Prospects 2015 and World Development Report 1998/99
  3. 3. The evolution of plant breeding The history of plant breeding started with selecting plants with especially desired traits. This was followed by cross-breeding, hybrid and mutation breeding, later genetic engineering and marker- assisted breeding, to name just a few. Continous development was necessary in order to find new solutions to the steadily increasing needs of mankind. We now have the opportunity to further expand the breeder’s toolkit. 1960s Mutation breeding In evolution, the genetic material of plants changes constantly. In nature, this happens by coincidence and is called mutation, a permanent alteration of the genes. A prominent example is the four-leaf clover. Mutations contrib- ute to the genetic variety of plants. Often positive traits occur that are inte- resting to breeders. In order to achieve these effects, mutations can be brought about artificially, but results cannot be predetermined and changes are random. In order to change specific traits intentionally, huge amounts of seeds must be treated, cultivated and examined – a tremendous effort. 1920s Hybrid breeding Homozygous parental lines not related to each other are cross-bred. From this, heterozygous hybrids emerge that carry the positive traits of their parents and thus exhibit improved performance. However, breeding and producing hybrid seed is a very elaborate process and requires numerous work steps. On the other hand, the additional yield of hybrid seed is remarkable. 12,000 B.C. Selection It all began with that extra edge. In the Neolithic age, farmers found certain grain plants to be more robust and nutritious than others and kept the high-quality seeds for sowing in the next year. Thus, they only cultivated plants with positive traits, and the first crop plants came into existence. The principle of selection had been established. Around 1900 Cross-breeding In the middle of the 19th century Gregor Mendel postulated the laws of inher- itance. For the first time, he made it possible to describe how traits are passed on from generation to genera- tion. Based on Mendel’s findings, plants can be cross-bred in a targeted way. Plants with specific genetic traits are combined. Progeny carrying the desired traits of both parents are selected and propagated.
  4. 4. 1980s Genetic engineering With the help of genetic engineering, genes from species that cannot be cross-bred naturally are transferred across the species barrier. Alternatively, native genes of a plant are switched off. This produces genetically engineered plants that could not have developed in nature. With these processes, breeders increase the palette of possible traits. Scientists transferred genes for the first time at the beginning of the 1980s. 1990s Marker-assisted breeding In marker-assisted selection, breeders examine the composition of genes with molecular tools, called molecular markers. Thanks to genome research they can detect without elaborate trials which plants should be cross-bred to achieve a desired result. The new methods. A selection. 1.Oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis (ODM) With this new method oligonucleotides are used to change individual DNA sequences at predefined loci of the genome. This results in a mutation in the genome which also occurs in nature.
  5. 5. The next step: nature-identical results Writing the next chapter: highly precise breeding methods allow for results nature itself would produce. A multitude of new methods create plants that are nature-identical, mean- ing they could have been the result of a traditional breeding method or of a coincidental natural mutation. These plants are no different from conven- tionally bred plants – neither in their genetic structure nor in their proper- ties. They do not contain any foreign genes or genes that were modified outside the plant. The essential difference: what nature only brings about coincidentally, what the traditional breeder needs to work on for years can be achieved by mod- ern methods specifically and pre- cisely in a very short time. The results adhere to what is possible in nature and are in accordance with the cross- breeding and recombination possi- bilities described by Mendel. At the same time, they make it possible to plan coincidence and thus for more efficient and effective breeding. These new methods can be used in many ways. Depending on how they are applied, some of them can result in genetically modified plants. For this reason a differentiated view should be taken in assessing them. Zinc Finger, TALEN and CRISPR/Cas can be used in different ways. Those methods in which no genes are transferred are called variant 1 or 2. The following overview shows how plants are gen- erated using these new methods. 4.CRISPR/Cas (in the defined variants 1/2) In contrast to TALEN 1/2 and Zinc Finger 1/2 a nucleic-acid-protein- complex is used to bind and cut the DNA. The nucleic acid binds a specific DNA sequence in the genome and the protein cuts the DNA at the specific loci. No genes – neither foreign nor closely related – are inserted. The desired effects are mutations at predefined loci. 5.RNA-directed DNA methylation (RdDM) This new method emulates natural epigenetic modifications of the DNA via methylation. Incorporated methyl groups, one of the smallest chemical units, induce the deactivation of tar- geted genes over several generations. The DNA sequence is not modified. Naturalness True to type The bred plants are nature-identical. They conform with varieties that are cross-bred or re- combined in a natural way. Thus, a firm limit is set: only what can come into existence naturally will come into existence at all. It all stays in the family. No genes are transferred, neither those of a closely related nor a foreign species. Corn stays corn, potato stays potato and beet stays beet. 3.TALEN (in the defined variants 1/2) Similar to Zinc Finger 1/2, proteins composed of two functional domains (DNA-binding domain and nuclease domain) bind to a specific DNA se- quence in the genome and cut the DNA at the specific loci. No genes – neither foreign nor closely related – are insert- ed. The desired effects are mutations at predefined loci. 2.Zinc Finger (in the variants 1/2) As with the new ODM method, muta- tions are generated at predefined loci. Proteins (Zinc Finger nucleases) are used that consist of two functional domains. The Zinc Finger domain of the protein fuses to the desired gene in the plant’s genome and the nu- clease domain cuts the DNA precisely.
  6. 6. The new methods are the topic of political discussion. According to the EU Directive 2001/18, an organism is to be rated as genetically modified when “its genetic material was changed in a way that is not possible to achieve naturally by cross-breeding and/or natural recombination.” According to this definition, many of the new methods do not create genet- ically modified organisms. Conse- quently, the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) as well as federal offices of five other EU member states classified an rapeseed that was bred on the basis of the ODM method as “not genetically modified”. We concur with this perspective. If the results are identical with those reached by means of conventional breeding – which is accepted in Europe – and can also occure naturally, the new methods should be evaluated accordingly. This differentiated approach should be applied in any evaluation. The new processes are effective, readily applic- able and can be used by many small and medium-sized breeding compa- nies. Use of the new breeding meth- ods would increase the competitive- ness of European agriculture as compared to other parts of the world that already benefit from innovation- friendly environments. The European market would gain in autonomy and significance. Otherwise increasingly stringent requirements would inevitably discriminate against smaller companies and public research. In evaluating green genetic engineer- ing, Germany and Europe have taken a special path which we, as breeders working for farmers and consumers, respect. However, from a scientific viewpoint, there is no substantive evi- dence why plants that are generated with genetic engineering should be rejected per se. That makes it all the more important for the world of politics and the gener- al public to stay receptive and objec- tive when it comes to new methods. If we applied the regulations for genet- ic engineering to every new breeding method, we would disconnect a whole continent from a method that mankind has been using for 12,000 years: to adapt the plants that feed us to our ever-changing needs. Mandy Schnell Head of Communications KWS SAAT SE Grimsehlstraße 31, 37574 Einbeck +49 (0) 5561 311-334 mandy.schnell@kws.com www.kws.com Would you like to actively participate in this dialogue? Then do so. Let’s discuss this together! Evaluation with a sense of proportion In breeding as in regulatory decision-making, our goal must be to evaluate each method precisely. Classical and new methods that result in nature-identical plants are a priority for us in developing products for Europe. This is what we focus on; this is what we are committed to. We strive to meet the demands customers and society are placing on our work as plant breeders, and to make them the guideline for our actions. Conditions vary across the 70 countries in which KWS SAAT SE operates. That makes it important to always find the best solution for the given conditions. Plants should be assessed according to their qualities. Our principle

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