Researchers are set to advise the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture to push for gene-editing technologies to be permitted for use in plant breeding in Ireland to help meet the need to feed a growing global population while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

Two of the scientists are members of University College Cork’s (UCC) research staff and have both indicated that they intend on advising the committee on the benefits of the technologies to sustainable food production.

The scientists’ calls will be made at Wednesday’s sitting of the committee, which will see the researchers briefing the committee’s TDs and senators on the topic.

A solution to climate challenges

Head of plant science at UCC Dr Barbara Doyle Prestwich will outline her position on gene editing as helping to provide a solution to Ireland’s obligations to reducing emissions as part of commitments made on climate change.

“All tools need to be on the table if we are to try to meet our climate targets,” Dr Doyle Prestwich said.

Gene editing is one of these tools which can support production while reducing inputs, she argues.

“We have to support our food producers here in Ireland, particularly in the face of reduced pesticides, and provide them with crops that can withstand disease,” the researcher said.

“We have a menu of solutions to feed the predicted 10 billion people. Let’s not restrict our choices with such high stakes,” added UCC’s Dr Raghu Badmi.

Gene editing

Gene editing plants differ from genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), in that no genetic material is introduced to the plant from a different species.

CRISPR-Cas9 is one of these non-GMO technologies and will be the centre of the joint committee’s address on Wednesday.

Expert on gene editing technologies and former EPA senior scientist Dr Tom McLoughlin described the CRISPR-Cas9 as being more targeted than GMO technologies in a story published in the Irish Farmers Journal last year.

To get an in-depth explainer of the technology and the potential benefits he has said it may pose for farmers, click here.

Dr McLoughlin will also address the committee on Wednesday.