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The European Court of Justice Advocate General published a legal opinion arguing that New Plant Breeding Techniques, including CRISPR-Cas, shouldn't be subject to the same regulations as other techniques because foreign DNA is not used. "Mutagenesis techniques are exempt from the obligations of the [biotech] Directive provided that they do not involve the use of recombinant nucleic acid molecules or [biotech organisms]," the opinion said.
 
Engineered organisms that cannot breed with wild counterparts could prevent transgenic plants from spreading genes to unmodified crops and weeds, and battle pests.
 
A team of researchers in Spain is working to modify select genes in citrus fruit to help the plants survive climate change. The team identified a hormone in orange trees, abscisic acid, that can be muted to help the plant survive flooding.
 
"DIY scientists in Germany can bring techniques out of the lab and help the country learn to love the field.", the editors of Nature write in the December 20 edition. "Despite an unfair reputation in some quarters for being unpredictable and threatening, many DIY biologists merely want to follow their curiosity independent of the formal culture of institutions. Some are artists who want to express themselves in green fluorescent protein rather than paint, or otherwise engage intellectually with what they see as the most important scientific and societal revolution of our time. Indeed, in doing so, biohackers could help to inject a sense of proportionality into the German public consciousness, with their diverse public displays of safe — and marvellous — biology."
 
A scientist used CRISPR technology to modify the promotor of tomato genes, which resulted in the generation of myriad variants important to the overall yield of tomatoes.
 
Senators from both parties agreed during a committee hearing on high drug prices that they need to clamp down on patent "evergreening" (slight modifications) and other techniques that drugmakers use to extend monopolies and prevent generic competition. The hearing centered on a recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which called for measures including ending pay-for-delay deals that put competition on hold, allowing the department of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices and permitting exclusion of certain drugs from formularies when cheaper drugs could offer similar clinical benefits.
 

The California Cherry Board is funding research into gene drive technology in the hopes of managing the population of the spotted-wing Drosophila fruit fly that spoils cherry fruits. The gene drive features a "selfish gene," which is inherited at a much greater rate than ordinary genes and can thus be used to spread DNA alterations that will allow scientists to control the population of the pest.

Source: MIT Technology Review online, 12 December 2017.

Experts are expecting a global increase of biotech crops through the use of CRISPR gene-editing technology. "What we demonstrated with each of the traits was the ability to use CRISPR to generate new genetic and trait variation that breeders can use to tailor a plant to suit conditions," said scientist Zachary Lippman.
 
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has approved Monsanto and Bayer's proposed merger. Separately, Monsanto opened a 400,000-square-foot research center in Chesterfield, Mo., on Friday.
 

A researcher from Duke University found that the type of algae from reused water made a difference in algae cultivation, which is used in the production of biofuel. Some algae, such as Arthrospira, Desmodesmus and Tetraselmis, were more favorable in secreting harmless molecules in the water than other kinds of algae.

Source: Biofuels Digest, 1 December 2017.

A $265 million funding round gave biotech startup Ginkgo Bioworks a $1.3 billion valuation, according to data from PitchBook. Ginkgo and chemical giant Bayer recently formed a company with the mission of bringing greater efficiencies to farming and the use of fertilizer.

The Bayer/Ginkgo team wants to turn crops into their own mini-fertilizer manufacturers. A handful of leguminous plants, including peanuts and soybeans, produce nitrogen naturally, and don’t require man-made fertilizer to grow. The plan is to empower other crops to make their own nitrogen by designing a nitrogen-producing microbiome in the lab and coating seeds with the synthetic cells.

 

Sources: Forbes, 14 September 2017; Wired, 14 September 2017; Recode, 30 November 2017.

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