TEgenesis® is a new breeding method which, among other things, accelerates climate-change adaptation in plants. The method therefore has great potential for finding faster responses to the challenges of the agriculture and food sector than conventional breeding can.
Only recently, two researchers were awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 ‘genetic scissors’ method. This shows the importance of new breeding methods for society. At Agroscope, as part of the European Research Council Project ‘BUNGEE’, the ‘Plant Genome Dynamics’ Research Group, headed by Etienne Bucher, is carrying out laboratory research with TEgenesis®, a new breeding method with great potential, developed and patented at the University of Basel.
What happens with TEgenesis®?
With the help of two molecules, TEgenesis® activates a natural adaptive mechanism of plants for a limited time. The process mobilises transposons occurring in the plant. Transposons are mobile genetic elements that can react to an external stress. This enables the plants e.g. to adapt quickly to heat or drought. In this way, TEgenesis® accelerates a random adaptive mechanism inherent to the plant. Whether or not this leads to the desired result can be ascertained quickly and accurately.
At Agroscope, field research trials using this method are currently not permitted. Federal Offices such as the responsible committees (Swiss Expert Committee for Biosafety SECB and the Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology ECNH) come to differing conclusions as to whether the ‘TEgenesis’ mutagenesis method falls under agricultural or genetic engineering law. The Federal Council has not yet dealt with this issue. Agroscope‘s arguments are set out in the document ‘Stellungnahme Agroscope’ (‘Agroscope Statement’) (see right-hand column).
New Breeding Method Achieves Aim Faster
Worldwide, the agriculture and food sector faces huge challenges: climate change, drought, heat, population growth with increasing demand for food, and the need to reduce plant-protection product use and ensure the sustainable use of soil, water and nutrients. The greatest potential for finding timely answers to these challenges is ascribed to breeding. Accordingly, the further development of breeding methods is important, since successful breeding takes time: with wheat, 12 to 15 years from crossing until a new variety is on the field. Developing productive, resistant and sustainable varieties and making these rapidly available to the agricultural sector is the core task of plant breeding. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also therefore explicitly recommends the use of such mutation breeding methods for improving the global food situation.