Enhancing access to gene-editing technologies for farmers and exporters

A biotech workshop

Murdoch researchers are upskilling crop growers and exporters in the commercialisation of gene-editing technologies.

New Breeding Technologies (NBTs) for crops, often referred to as gene-editing, are becoming more sophisticated with scientists able to make precise changes in plant genes to grow better crop varieties with beneficial traits.

Professor Michael Jones, Director of the Centre for Crop and Food Innovation at the Food Futures Institute, and Murdoch University PhD scholar Muhammad Adeel, are enabling Australian growers to make first use of these technologies to become international market leaders.

Together, they have been awarded a three year $579,000 grant from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) to pursue the project.

Leveraging Murdoch’s crop biotechnology expertise and the developing field of science diplomacy, the project team will work with exporters and industry collaborators to increase understanding of new breeding technologies and their market potential in produce-importing countries through trade-ready training and industry round tables.

“Our program will focus on translating market intelligence into a clear pathway for increased sales and distribution of NBT commodities, especially grains,” Professor Jones said.  

“Ideally, we hope to provide support to Australian producers for policy development and industry strategies for commercialisation of NBTs through market analysis, workshops and reports on the global outlook.”

One area of training for Australian exporters will be through the “Biotech Game”, a role-play exercise in 'science diplomacy' developed by Mr Adeel.

The biotech game focuses on educating diverse audiences on the complexities of science policy and regulations in the international arena. It has been trialed through workshops acknowledged by the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) as ‘Education Initiative of the Year’ in 2019.

Deregulating gene-edited crops

Mr Adeel explained gene-edited crops which contain no external genetic material became deregulated in 2019 for many leading agricultural producing countries, including Australia.

“This was an exciting development for the agricultural industry because gene-edited 'SDN-1' crops were declared not to be genetically modified organisms, as they don’t contain any introduced DNA,” he said.

“The deregulation of gene-edited crops is a game-changer. It democratises access to this technology for all Australian plant breeders, big or small.”

Professor Jones said that it’s great to see the rise of NBTs now driving increased investment in this form of breeding and the development of new plant products.

“The list of applications is increasing rapidly, with several new crop varieties now commercialised overseas, and many more in the pipeline.”

Creating a more competitive market

Australia’s competitiveness in the global agricultural economy increasingly depends on access to, and implementation of, the most effective technologies to create better crop varieties.

“Importantly, this includes more healthy food, which aligns completely with Murdoch’s focus on Food Futures and healthy foods,” Professor Jones said.

“However, to gain first-mover advantage of these new technologies, market intelligence, regulations and acceptance of new technologies in importing countries is needed.”  

This is all the more important since Australian grain exporters have experienced disruptions in trade stemming from climatic changes as well as market factors, including changing regulations.

New breeding technologies provide an ideal avenue for exporters to diversify their supply chains, minimise risk, and benefit from high-value products.”

Professor Jones added that the award would further consolidate Murdoch’s leadership in translational research and innovation in the crop and food space.

“Not only will it enable Australian researchers and exporters to showcase and market gene-edited products, but it will also allow us to engage in an international dialogue to promote harmonisation of regulation for NBTs.

“Overall, we aim to provide small exporters, peak bodies and others in the crop production sphere with a holistic structure for understanding the changing market dynamics.”

Learn more about research from the Food Futures Institute.
Posted on:

11 Nov 2020

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