Building Capacity for Small Exporters to Exploit New Breeding Technologies

Murdoch University, Media Release

In 2019, the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) extended its Package Assisting Small Exporters (PASE) program, which includes grants for projects that facilitate small exporters to overcome different type of trade barriers. One project approved for funding in the most recent round is on ‘Building Capacity for Small Exporters to Exploit New Breeding Technologies’. Awarded to a team of researchers at the WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre, Murdoch University, Western Australia, this project is focused on improving trade outcomes for exporters interested in commercialising new breeding technologies (NBTs) such as genome editing. 

Australian plant breeders develop new varieties both for domestic and international markets. Developments in biotechnology have resulted in the emergence of new methods for crop improvement. This project delivers information and actionable deliverables to promote the implementation of new breeding technologies through workshops to provide the latest scientific knowledge and information on Australian and international regulations related to gene-edited (SDN-1) crops.  The project is unique in the sense that it also fosters science diplomacy as a pathway to promote harmonisation of international policy negotiations and regulations that relate to the acceptance of products of new breeding technologies. This aspect links the potential of NBTs with food security, which is a key Sustainable Development Goal.  

The first workshop on was held on Friday 19th March at Murdoch University, Perth, attended by plant breeders, researchers, growers, grain handlers and exporters, to discuss how to promote the new breeding technology of gene-editing.

PhD Scholar and Career Diplomat M. Adeel, detailed the importance of Science Diplomacy in reaching consensus in international regulations which govern international trade in agricultural goods, and more particularly on regulations which relate to powerful new crop breeding technologies.  In effect this is where science meets regulations at an international level.

Prof Michael Jones presented the science on gene-editing of crops – a set of new technologies  which can be applied to crop improvement, and which have been de-regulated by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) – that is they are not genetically modified organisms.  This ruling by the OGTR on specific GM technologies (known as ‘SDN-1’) is democratising new breeding technologies, since they can be used by any plant breeders big or small to generate new, improved crop varieties.  It’s a real game-changer, and in countries like Argentina we can already see that gene-edited products have different profiles and faster market release rates, much faster development from bench to market and are being undertaken mainly by SMEs and public institutions. This change is resulting in more diversified traits applied to more plant species.

Dr Louisa Matthew from the OGTR (Office of the Gene technology Regulator) in Canberra discussed the drivers for regulatory changes regarding gene-edited crops, and the need for regulations which must be flexible enough to meet the arrival of new technologies, and the consultation processes that the OGTR follows.

Dr Sadia Iqbal described gene-editing research underway at Murdoch University, including the generation of potatoes with reduced glycaemic index, potatoes which do not produce brown crisps after low temperature storage, and work to increase frost tolerance in wheat.

This was followed by the launch of the PASE-NBT portal by M Adeel, which will provide information on regulations and policy which surround new breeding technologies in our trading partner countries. This portal will allow multi-stakeholder engagement as well as be a source of providing science advice to policymakers. 

This workshop is the first of a series of local, national and international workshops on gene-editing for crop improvement which will be undertaken over the next few years.  

Contact Professor Michael Jones, WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre, Murdoch University, for further information or participation in future workshops ([email protected]).

PASE project supporting partners are:

  • DAWE Package Assisting Small Exporters (PASE)
  • Murdoch University
  • The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development WA (DPIRD)
  • Australian Seed Federationimage003.jpg
  • Edstar genetics Pty Ltd
  • RAYI Corporation Pty Ltd
  • Green Blueprint Pty Ltd
  • CBH Group
  • CropLife Australia

Portal link:

Contact email: [email protected]