Precision genome editing for a livable world – official declaration of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

The Presidium of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has unanimously accepted the resolution drafted by the Academy’s three life sciences sections (Section of Biological Sciences, Section of Medical Sciences, Section of Agricultural Sciences) concerning the most important scientific method today, genome editing, which opens up enormous possibilities for medical science and agriculture.

11 January, 2018

The past years have witnessed revolutionary changes in the life sciences, primarily in genetics, owing to the emergence and the exceptionally rapid spread of genome editing. The different techniques of genome editing enable us to freely modify the genome of a living being with much more precision than before, much like modifying a text in Word.

The case of genome editing very clearly shows that legislation is unable to keep up with the pace of technological development. The delay in legislation results in an innovational disadvantage. While the United States and China have already started creating rules for this new technology with great economic potential, the European Union has yet to take steps. It is a realistic danger that this uncertainty will cause Hungary and the European Union to lag behind in international research and innovation competition.

Some months ago, EASAC (European Academies Science Advisory Council) issued a resolution urging the creation of more sensible rules that address the real potential and risks of genome editing. Now the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has also passed a resolution on this problem.

The cornerstone of the Academy's declaration is that it states– in accordance with other European academies – that genome editing, as a method for precision breeding, may fundamentally differ from the creation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In the case of genome editing, it is possible to enhance the characteristics of living organisms without inserting genes from unrelated species. With this technology, DNA is modified in a similar manner to natural processes, with much higher precision than with previous methods, and thus risks are reduced considerably. It is scientifically supported that following EASAC’s recommendations, genome editing should not fall within the scope of the legislation on GMOs; therefore, the use of genetically-edited organisms would not be in violation of the Hungarian constitution.

Genome editing is a new, quickly spreading breeding technique, which already has several uses in the field of agriculture, including the creation of disease or virus-resistant breeding stocks. Concerning medical uses, if proper ethical rules are followed, genetic diseases caused by a single mutation could be cured (the number of such known diseases is around 800). Genome editing could make it possible to effectively create new proteins to be used in human medicine or alimentation that have not been produced by bacteria or yeast fungi.

The MTA’s resolution declares that the public must be informed about the possibilities and risks of new genome editing techniques – especially those of the most frequent CRISPR/Cas9 technology – and public discussion is also called for. Information on genome editing should also be included in school curricula.