Gene-edited rice crop trial in Italy sabotaged by vandals

Green Super Rice Field in Pakistan

In a recent act of vandalism, criminals destroyed Italy’s first field trial of gene-edited rice, which scientists hoped would address one of the most destructive diseases affecting crops globally. The targeted crop was a new variety of rice engineered to resist the deadly fungus, Pyricularia oryzae, known for its capacity to ruin vast quantities of rice annually—enough to feed 60 million people.

Developed using CRISPR-Cas9, a cutting-edge genetic editing technology that garnered the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 for its inventors, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, the rice variant named RIS8imo was not classified as a genetically modified organism (GMO). In Italy, GMOs are banned, but RIS8imo qualified under the nation’s category of TEA: techniques for assisted evolution in agriculture, thanks to its process of inactivating certain genes without adding new genetic material.

The destroyed trial, located at the Università Statale di Milano and led by researchers Vittoria Brambilla and Fabio Fornara, covered an area of 28 square meters and was secured within dual-fenced perimeters to prevent any unintended spread of the rice. Despite the security measures, the field was decimated on June 21, over a month after its initial planting on May 13.

The research team, supported by public funding and local community agreement, aimed to create a sustainable farming alternative that does not rely on chemical fungicides. In a statement, Brambilla and Fornara expressed their dismay and sadness at the destruction of their work, which they described as the result of “obscurantism and anti-scientific impulses.”

The scientists remain hopeful that their efforts will continue with enhanced protection from the Italian government, emphasizing the project’s potential to significantly reduce reliance on harmful fungicides and secure food resources.

Source: IFLScience

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