International workshop to explore risk assessment implications of emerging GM technique

EFSA is bringing together experts from across the globe to consider the implications for its risk assessment work from an emerging technique in the genetic modification of plants.  More than 100 scientists from four continents will gather in Brussels on 4-5 June to take part in EFSA’s scientific workshop on RNAi (ribonucleic acid interference) in GM plants.

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) acts as the body’s messenger by carrying genetic information to the part of a cell that makes proteins – key building blocks of life. RNAi is a natural process that blocks or interferes with this activity in animals and plants. In the late 1990s, scientists discovered how to use this mechanism to control the flow of genetic information.

EFSA has organised this international workshop as a proactive step to assess whether the technique will affect its present risk assessment approach.

Elisabeth Waigmann, Head of EFSA’s GMO Unit, explained: “It is possible that the RNAi technique could lead to unintended effects on the GM plant itself or on other species. By sharing our knowledge on RNAi, we want to explore how to predict if such effects are likely to occur and what they might be. This could then provide the basis for refining the current GM risk assessment methodology to detect unintended effects.”

EFSA will be joined by scientists and experts on risk assessment from academia, risk assessment bodies and the private sector from the Americas, Asia and all over Europe.  The two-day event will allow delegates to pool expertise on RNAi and consider its implications for evaluating the safety of GM plants.

Several experts will deliver an overview of the latest science on RNAi in plants, mammals and invertebrates, as well as discussing current and future RNAi applications. Participants will also explore the different risk assessment aspects for GM plants – including those specific to RNAi-based plants – through presentations and break-out sessions.

Dr Waigmann added: “A key aspect of EFSA’s work is that we remain aware of new issues in risk assessment and take steps to consider the implications for our ongoing work. It is also important that EFSA is able to provide a forum in which members of the global scientific community can meet and reflect on these topics. We are pleased that the workshop has attracted such interest and we look forward to the insights that we believe this international partnership will yield.”

Registration for the workshop is closed but EFSA will publish a report of proceedings later in 2014.

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