EU parliament approves New Genomic Techniques: GAIN4CROPS infographics navigate legislative changes for sustainable agriculture

To support the European Parliament’s much-celebrated approval of a proposal on New Genomic Techniques, GAIN4CROPS created easy-to-understand infographics illustrating the genetic modifications allowed under the new rules. With these visuals, the project aims to keep up with legislative developments while providing clear guidance for researchers and anyone working towards sustainable agriculture.

In a crucial step towards more sustainable agriculture in the European Union (EU), Members of the European Parliament have backed a proposal for New Genomic Techniques to support farmers and secure the EU’s food system. The original proposal was previously adopted by the European Commission as part of a package supporting the EU’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies.

New genomic techniques have great potential to help us adapt to many of the most serious challenges facing European agriculture today – including food security, climate change, and reduced biodiversity – and their use should benefit farmers, consumers, and the environment alike.

Spokesperson Seán Kelly

Current NGT legislation and possible paths

The current rules for plants obtained by New Genetic Techniques (NGTs) are the same as for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). However, members of the European Parliament voted (307 to 263, with 41 abstentions) in favor of having two distinct categories of NGT plants.

  • NGT plants that are considered equivalent to conventional crops (NGT 1 crops) wouldn’t have to comply with GMO legislation.
  • On the other hand, other NGT crops (NGT 2 crops) would still have to comply with stricter regulations.

Before the vote on 7 February 2024, it was proposed that NGT 1 plants would be equivalent to conventional crops if they followed certain genetic modifications. These modifications included editing genes within the same plant (targeted mutagenesis) or adding genes from the gene pool of related plants that can naturally interbreed (cisgenesis).

Parliament amends genetic modification criteria for NGT 1 plants

However, for NGT 1 plants, members of the European Parliament have proposed amendments to the size and number of modifications required for an NGT 1 plant to be considered equivalent to conventional plants.

The amended proposal changes the number of modifications from 20 modifications of specific types in certain DNA sequences to specify that only up to three of these specific modifications may occur in any protein-coding sequence. The amended proposal also replaces the limitation to exclude genetic modifications that interrupt an endogenous gene by inserting or substituting a given sequence by specifying that the modifications should not result in a chimeric protein that is not present in species from the gene pool for breeding purposes. Thus, this amendment could significantly limit the number of plants that qualify as category 1 NGT plants.

To reflect the amendments, GAIN4CROPS partner IN Society has created a new technical infographic, including an accompanying glossary of newly updated or adopted definitions such as “chimeric protein.”

Infographic with the criteria of equivalence of plants obtained via new genomic techniques to conventional plants.
Summary of criteria of equivalence between NGT and conventional plants

A NGT 1 plant is considered equivalent to conventional plants if the conditions in points 1 and 1a are met:

Point 1

Any protein-coding sequence can have a maximum of 3 of the following genetic modifications (a, b), which may be combined. Mutations in introns and regulatory sequences are excluded from this limit.

  • a: Substitution or insertion of no more than 20 nucleotides
  • b: Deletion of any number of nucleotides

Point 1a

The following genetic modifications (a, b, c), which can be combined, do not create a chimeric protein absent in species from the gene pool for breeding purposes or do not interrupt an endogenous gene.

  • a: Insertion of continuous DNA sequences existing in the gene pool for breeding purposes.
  • b: Substitution of endogenous DNA sequences with continuous DNA sequences existing in the gene pool for breeding purposes.
  • c: Inversion or translocation of continuous endogenous DNA sequences existing in the gene pool for breeding purposes
Definitions related to the approved new genomic techniques.
Approved and updated definitions related to NGTs

NGT plant: A genetically modified plant created by targeted mutagenesis or cisgenesis, or a mix of both, with no genetic material from outside its own gene pool.

Target Mutagenesis: Changes the DNA sequence at targeted locations in the genome of an organism.

Cisgenesis: Insertion of genetic material already present in the breeders’ gene pool.

Gene pool for breeding purposes: The total genetic information within one species and other related species that can cross-breed, using advanced methods like embryo rescue, induced polyploidy, and bridge crosses.

Chimeric protein: Created by joining two or more genes or parts of genes that originally produced separate proteins.

Introns: Any nucleotide sequence within a gene that is not expressed or operative in the final RNA product.

Regulatory sequences: A segment of DNA that is capable of increasing or decreasing the expression of specific genes within an organism.

Andreas Weber, the coordinator of the GAIN4CROPS project, welcomed the European Parliament’s decision.

MEPs listened to scientists and voted YES to NGTs! This is an important step towards extending the toolbox for the sustainability and resilience of agriculture. Let’s hope the member states’ ministers follow the European Parliament’s majority vote. It is not over yet.

Andreas Weber

Next steps

The European Parliament is ready to meet with the EU Council, Commission, and Member States to reach a provisional agreement on the legislative files. As the EU continues to navigate the complexities of modern agriculture, GAIN4CROPS stands ready to contribute to a more resilient and productive food system.

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