Posted by Carole Adair on Jan 28, 2019
Our first guest speaker for the year was Gertje Peterson from Abacus Biotech who spoke at our 24th January meeting.

Gertje originally studied vet medicine at the Free University of Berlin. She joined Abacus Biotech in 2013 and has been done a PhD in genetics at Otago University with research into bee colonies.

For a very complex subject, Gertje managed to explain the difference between gene modification(GM) and genetic editing (GE) so we could understand it. GM is the insertion of foreign genetic material into a cell or genome and produce a genetically modified organism (GMO). Because it is foreign material that is inserted, the results are very difficult to predict. When the genes of the organism are sequenced, gene modification is easy to identify. GM is commonly applied in medical and food production and is used to produce cheap high quality drugs e.g. insulin and many common antibiotics.

By comparison, gene editing is very targeted and scientists can closely predict what is going to happen. Although this is the insertion of material into a cell or genome, it is not foreign material. When this happens, it is undetectable when genes are sequenced. Gene editing can be used to wipe out genetic defects or create disease resistant plants in food production.

Unfortunately current legislation is dated and does not differentiate between genetically modified organisms and genetically edited organisms and treats them as they same when in fact they are very different.

A very interesting presentation that generated a lot of questions from Club members.