The Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) conducted an Open-Seminar on CRISPR-Cas 9 and Genomics on January 23, 2018 in partnership with East-West Seed Company. The speakers were Dr. Zachary Lippman of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory who discussed “The Miracle of Genomic Editing: Now What?” and Dr. Byuong-Cheorl Kang of Seoul National University who discussed about “Genomics-assisted breeding in Pepper”.

Dr. Lourdes D. Taylo, Chair of the IPB, Seminar Committee, gave an overview of the seminar where she emphasized that one of the impacts of genomic editing in science is the increase in publication on genomics and how the genome editing products will be regulated.

In Dr. Lippman’s presentation, he discussed that the major change that enabled the tomatoes to yield larger harvest was the transformation of a tomato from an indeterminate form (architectural) into a compact determinate form that enables the burst of flower into fruit production. Through the mutation in antiflorigen (SP) gene, the plant will have little opposition to the flower promoting hormone known as florigen (SFT), a gene that promotes the flowering transition, therefore plants will flower more rapidly and will undergo self-pruning. Mutations that suppress determinate growth, those which causes plants to undergo self-pruning, could result in more inflorescence and yield. Therefore, a single gene mutation would allow farmers to have plants grown and harvested within three months. Another mutation in tomatoes called “jointless” mutation, found in the abscission zone, allows the plants to be mechanically harvested and resulting to massive production. Mutated gene generated by editing (e.g. CRISPR) of chromosome 12, are no different than natural mutations. To improve yields in terms of quantitatively, CRISPR-Cas 9 was used to mutate the upstream region of the gene to create a collection of alleles to produce the desired architectural variation in the plant.

Dr. Byuong-Cheorl Kang, the second speaker, discussed on various genomics tools that are available for sequencing genes that could aid in genetic mapping of Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNPs) markers of important traits in pepper breeding. He mentioned various sequencing device such as Ilumina, Oxpord Nanopore and SmidgIon. Dr. Kang discussed briefly about whole-genome skim sequencing and recommends using this technology where recombinant SNPs are chosen instead of using whole gene mapping. Genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS) was also discussed that permits the discovery of SNPs by creating a reduced representation library from genomic DNA. The advantages of GBS allows a sequencing of low but enough number of high-quality SNPs and reduced genotyping complexity.

During the Open Forum, Dr. Lippman shared his view on the regulation of gene-editing and he shared that for Southeast Asian countries, it will take time to work out on the regulations whether gene editing is considered a Genetic Modified Organism (GMO) or not. Unlike in the United States, gene-editing is not considered a GMO because GMOs are under product-based assessment unlike gene-editing which is a process-based assessment. Others countries have taken a different approach in their regulation (e.g. New Zealand and Europe), wherein, if it a study involved a GMO gene, it will be regulated as GMO. He expressed that gene-editing is similarly like a tool (e.g. chemical mutagenesis) therefore, there is no need for regulation its processes.

The Department of Science and Technology Biosafety Committee (DOST-BC) is the regulatory body of Philippines which oversees the implementation of biosafety policies, measure, guidelines and decision for contained and confined used trial of GMOs, referred to as “living modified organism” under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and refers to any living organism that possess a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology to make them capable of producing new substance or perform new function. In the absence of the approaches for new plant breeding techniques, DOST-BC will continue its stern implementations on the biosafety policies and guidelines in the Philippines, gene-editing activities that are considered process-based shall remain under the regulatory purview of DOST-BC.