Since 2017, VIB performs field trials with maize plants in which small genetic changes have been introduced using the precision breeding technique CRISPR. Until the end of July 2018, the federal Belgian authorities allowed VIB to perform such trials without a specific GMO permit. However, after the ruling of the European Court of Justice of 25 July 2018 in case C-528/16 the federal authorities have changed their position. For that reason, VIB has applied for a field trial permit to be able to continue and expand its research in 2019.
It concerns a field trial with maize plants in which small changes – mutations – have been introduced in the ATR and ATM genes involved in the natural DNA repair mechanism of the plant. The result of the mutation is that these genes are knocked down and can no longer perform their natural function. The researchers expect that damage to the DNA caused by environmental or climate stress will more easily accumulate in these plants. They have become a sort of biosensor for such type of stress. The research is done as part of a search for factors that determine the growth and development of plants under different circumstances.
It is a small-scale field trial with 450 CRISPR mutated plants which will be conducted in cooperation with the agricultural research institute ILVO. The application was declared admissible on 9 January, 2019, and can be consulted online on the website of the Federal Public Service Health and in the town hall of the municipality of Wetteren from 15 January until 14 February 2019.