Priority research areas

Biosafety of Modern Biotechnology currently focusing on Genome Editing and Synthetic Biology

Genome editing has quickly become the most promising biotechnology tool to enhance crop and animal breeding. By inducing targeted mutations with techniques such as CRISPR or even introducing new pathways with synthetic biology approaches, designing new genetic modifications has rapidly evolved into common tools used throughout academia and biotech industry. Most research, however, focuses on modifying and enhancing the methods rather than understanding unintended effects, such as off target edits and outcomes of pathway changes. This is unfortunate, as one of the key challenges of safely regulating modern biotechnology is to understand observed genotypic changes and to connect these to effects on cell and organism physiology, thus tying the effects of mutagenesis to relevant risks and hazards. In our research group, we combine molecular biology with the latest profiling techniques to help us understand if, and how, small changes may affect the edited plants and animals. We investigate how these small changes can be quantified and if genome edited organisms and synthetic biology pose environmental risks.

In addition, we will focus on how to detect and manage such potential risks.

Our research portfolio includes:

GMOmics: This project is about the application of omics technologies to investigate potential unintended metabolic alterations in genetically modified/edited plants and for elaboration of their relevance for GMO risk assessment. The project is externally funded.

Biosafety of Genome Editing: In this project, we apply state of the art technology to address precision and off target as well as potential for unintended effects of genome editing and synthetic biology.

SynPlast: This research project aims at understanding three biological aspects of CRISPR-edited plant cells: 1) efficiency and functioning of CRISPR system in plants; 2) potential off-target mutations and metabolic disturbances; 3) potential biosafety concerns related to metabolic changes.

Our current involvement in national and international policy advice includes work with:

  • Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety (VKM)

Research leader: Odd-Gunnar Wikmark