Published 2019-01-10

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Network for understanding between lawyers and biologists

PGRIP is a new European network aimed at enabling biologists and lawyers to understand one another better. The initiator is Dennis Eriksson, researcher in Mistra Biotech.
‘The network is a direct result of my getting the opportunity to work in Brussels a few years ago through Mistra Fellows.’

Dennis Eriksson, a researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and Lund University, was given the opportunity through Mistra Fellows to work at the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO) in Brussels for nine months in 2015.

Eriksson used his time in Belgium to build a network of participants active in the biotechnology sector in Europe. These contacts now form the basis of the Plant Genetic Resources International Platform (PGRIP).

‘Since there’s so much happening in biotech right now, there’s a need to join forces academically.’

Two events in recent years may affect trends for everyone engaged in plant breeding. The first was a decision by the European Court of Justice that looks set to ban crops edited by CRISPR-Cas technology. The other is the Nagoya Protocol, an international agreement on genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge that has been in force since 2014.

In a broader perspective, the idea is for the network to be involved in issues relating to biosafety, access to plant genetic resources and intellectual property rights in the field of plant breeding.

‘The most unique thing about PGRIP is that we stimulate interdisciplinary collaboration. Above all, we want to build relationships between biologists and lawyers.’

The background is that these two occupational categories greatly influence developments in the field of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). But because of their divergent backgrounds and approaches, the necessary cooperation has often failed.

‘There’s a need for greater understanding between these disciplines. As it is today, the laws governing plant breeding are written by people who lack knowledge of biological realities. The problem is reversed for biologists, who rarely understand how a regulatory system needs to be designed to function in society. Hopefully, if we can provide both sides with better knowledge and understanding of each other’s reality, they’ll be able to get together and jointly formulate thoughts and ideas,’ Eriksson says.

Although the European Court of Justice decided in June that crops created with new technologies such as the Crispr molecular scissors should be classified as GMOs, Eriksson is optimistic.

‘The decision seems to be an obstacle but, at the same time, the Court identified the problem with current legislation. Paradoxically, it may clear the way for modernisation of the regulations for international trade in genetically modified crops. Whether we’ll also see changes for crops that have undergone classic genetic modification is more doubtful.’

Eriksson sees that PGRIP can help experts from different areas to find one another. But the network’s main objective is to make publication of research findings easier for researchers who seek it.

‘For example, we’ll be able to give grants to researchers who want to get articles published.’

PGRIP, in turn, has received financial support both directly from Mistra and from the Mistra Biotech programme.

PGRIP’s website: http://www.pgrip.org