A Federal Government decision not to regulate some types of gene editing used in agriculture and medicine may have many researchers breathing a sigh of relief. But what does it all mean?
Until recently it had been unclear whether Australian gene technology laws would apply to techniques that produce changes that theoretically could occur naturally, or during mutation breeding, which was exempted from the regulations when they first came in.
Karinne Ludlow, an expert in biotechnology law at Monash University, said the lack of legal clarity had made it difficult for researchers wanting to use the technology to engineer useful traits.
But on April 10 the Australian Government decided not to regulate this form of gene editing or what they call SDN-1 (or site-directed nuclease) techniques. Gene editing will not be regulated if it is only used to cut DNA in a specific place and the cell's natural DNA repair process is allowed to operate, without further intervention.
Dr Ludlow said the Australian decision made sense. "We already accept that humans mutate DNA. We do it all different ways. We apply chemicals, we apply radiation," said Dr Ludlow. "We know from 80 years of mutation breeding in plants that we don't tend to get dangerous things happening."