Researchers have today welcomed a clarification by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) that will allow them to progress new avenues of research for the benefit of New Zealand.

In response to an application led by AgResearch and supported by 14 other research or industry organisations, the EPA has stated that organisms known as null segregants are not considered genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and are therefore not subject to the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 which places restrictions on use of GMOs in New Zealand.

A null segregant is the offspring of a genetically modified plant or animal but is not in itself genetically modified or containing any characteristics of being genetically modified. Until now, null segregant organisms have been treated by researchers and industry as if they are genetically modified, which had limited use in research.

The EPA says the introduction of any specific null segregant into the environment will still be verified case by case by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

“This clarification does not change the way we treat genetically modified organisms used in research in New Zealand, but what it does do is give us clarity on the use of organisms that we saw as being a grey area within the regulations,” says AgResearch science team leader Richard Scott.

“We had a clear view as researchers that these null segregants were not GMOs, but now we have certainty from the EPA to support this.”

AgResearch science team leader Richard Scott

“The way is now cleared for researchers to consider the opportunities to use null segregants to deliver additional research and benefits to New Zealand’s productive industries and in areas such as health, nutrition, and wellbeing.”

Opportunities may include enhanced or speed breeding of productive plant species in New Zealand, and use of null segregants in conventional breeding programmes to develop new varieties of NZ-adapted ryegrass for example.

Plant & Food Research was one of 14 supporting applicants across research and industry sectors seeking this clarification, and its chief scientist Richard Newcomb agrees that it provides new avenues for research for New Zealand’s food and fibre sectors.

“Breeding new varieties can take more than a decade and every research tool we can utilise allows us to make more efficient advancements towards addressing fast-moving global threats to food production, such as climate change and biosecurity.”

The full finding by the EPA (including the application) can be viewed here(external link)

A short video explaining what a null segregant is can be viewed here(external link).

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