RALEIGH, NC. — An article published Sept. 1 in Science details a new way to regulate genetically engineered (GE) crops. The specific new characteristics of a GE crop could determine whether it needs to be tested for safety, according to the researchers from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. This approach could be more effective than focusing on the methods and processes behind the creation of the crop.

Genomics could be used to scan new crop varieties for unexpected DNA changes, an action that would be similar to how biomedical sciences use genomic approaches to scan human genomes for problematic mutations. If the new crop has new characteristics that potentially could cause health or environmental effects, or if the crop has differences that cannot be interpreted, safety testing would be recommended.

“The approaches used right now, which differ among governments, lack scientific rigor,” said Fred Gould, PhD, a professor at North Carolina State University and co-director of the university’s Genetic Engineering and Society Center. “The size of the change made to a product and the origin of the DNA have little relationship with the results of that change. Changing one base pair of DNA in a crop with 2.5 billion base pairs, like corn, can make a substantial difference.”

The article recommends establishing an international committee of crop breeders, chemists and molecular biologists to establish the options and costs of this approach for a variety of crops. National and international governing bodies could sponsor the committee as well as workshops and research.