Conference “New genomic techniques – the future of modern agriculture”

Conference “New genomic techniques – the future of modern agriculture”

The Association of the Seed Industry in Bulgaria (ASIB) in cooperation with the European Seed Association (Euroseeds) organized the first ever conference dedicated to agricultural biotechnology.

The event was held at HYATT REGENCY SOFIA on October 26, 2023 and brought together representatives of state institutions – Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment and Water, Ministry of Health, Food Agency, Executive Agency for variety testing, field inspection and seed control, representatives of scientific institutes of the SSA, key agricultural producers, representatives of various branch organizations, media. A special guest was the Minister of Agriculture and Food Kiril Vatev, who opened the conference.

In its first edition, entitled “New Genomic Techniques – The Future of Modern Agriculture”, the latest developments in the regulation of agricultural biotechnologies were discussed in an extremely important year, in the context of which the European Union is preparing to regulate plants obtained by these new techniques.

“Today we will all be not only proud to participate in today’s event, but also deeply convinced of the right course of events, within the European Commission and the European Parliament, which are on the verge of a crucial decision to integrate New Genomic Techniques as an integral part of applied science and breeding activities in our industry, which in turn will help to make serious progress in their practical application and give a huge boost to agricultural production in the countries of United Europe. ” This was noted in his welcoming speech addressing the guests of this unique forum on New Genomic Techniques and their future, the Chairman of the Board of ASIB Petko Vassilev.

“The development of new varieties and breeds resistant to biotic and abiotic environmental factors, with preserved or improved productivity, is key to the transition towards sustainable agricultural production and ensuring food security. ” This was said by the Minister of Agriculture and Food Kiril Vatev, who was our guest and opened the conference. The Agriculture Minister stressed that this is why new genomic techniques are already being successfully used and applied outside the EU, and why the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has included them in its innovation strategy.

This one-of-a-kind event was moderated by Maria Hristova, European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT Food), who focused the attendees’ attention on the most important challenges in the field of plant breeding, discussed with specialists from Bulgaria, Germany, and the United States of America.

Prof.Violeta Bojanova (PhD) and prof. Elena Todorovska (PhD)  scientists in the field of plant biotechnology and molecular and functional biology from the Agriculture b Academy briefly presented the challenges related to the sustainable development of agriculture arising from climate change, declining biodiversity, environmental pollution and increasing food security and public health. They outlined the possibilities of plant breeding to solve them against the background of a brief review of classical and modern methods for creating genetic diversity and pointed out good examples of their application in Bulgarian breeding programs, noting the need to develop even more targeted ones, including state-of-the-art genomic techniques to facilitate and accelerate the breeding process and results, reflecting the uniqueness and adaptability of the Bulgarian genetic plasma.

Prof. Milena Ouzunova (PhD), Head of “Applied Breeding Technologies in Maize and Oilseed Crops”, Research and Development Department KWS SAAT SE& Co KGaA, Germany, Professor of “Molecular Plant Breeding”, Technical University of Munich (TUM), “Doctor Honoris Causa” of Agricultural Academy, considered New Genomic Techniques as a necessary and urgent extension of modern plant breeding. Why do we need new genomic techniques, how genome editing can help us deal with agricultural challenges, what is the impact of innovations in plant breeding, these were the questions posed and answered in the lecture of Prof. Milena Uzunova. “Genetic crop improvement plays a key role in meeting the challenges arising from human population growth, increasing consumption, climate change and the depletion of natural resources. Recent advances in genome editing (CRISPR technology) can make biodiversity accessible for cultivation, expand the genetic diversity of our crops and increase the genetic gain in crop improvement,” concluded Prof. Uzunova

Dr. Petra Jorash – Manager, Plant Breeding Innovation Advocacy, Euroseeds, spoke to the audience about what the New Genomic Techniques legislative proposal looks like, which came out just two months ago, but also the European industry’s perspective on seeds: ” Euroseeds welcomes that the Commission proposal finally recognizes the need for a differentiated regulatory approach to certain “conventional-like” NGT-derived plants and products from the GMO legislation. Any NGT-derived plant considered conventional-like should be subject to the same regulatory framework as conventional breeding. Euroseeds supports transparency and consumer choice by making information about the use of NGTs publicly available (public databases). Petra Jorash presented the next steps in legislation in Europe, policy developments for NGT-derived plants around the world and concluded with the question ” Will there finally be a resurrection of Plant Breeding Innovation in Europe?”

Prof. Wayne Parratt, Distinguished Research Professor, Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics, University of Georgia (USA), presented the American perspective on new genomic techniques in terms of the regulatory framework and their advantages: “New genomic techniques continue research done for many years, so they are not really ‘new’. They are a natural extension of traditional plant breeding. Our role, as those involved in agriculture, is to do more with less because that is what we are talking about when we talk about productivity and sustainability. If we look at what plant breeding has done in the last century, we see that we have got approximately a million new varieties, with a history of safe use when handled properly, adapted to different growing conditions, more nutritious, tastier varieties, much more suited to every need of society. “

The participants in the panel discussion, who were representatives of the state administration, scientific circles and seed producers, had the opportunity not only to answer, but also to ask questions that were related to what are the possibilities of using the new genomic techniques, what are the expectations for the development of the topic of new genomic techniques, what challenges may arise for seed producers and consumers, how they see variety maintenance and seed production for crops created using new genomic techniques.

As a summary of the meeting are the words of the Chairman of the Board of ASIB Petko Vassilev “The purpose of this conference was to give all interested parties the opportunity to participate fully in a very broad discussion that would help to form an informed position on the topic. A position that is primarily in the interest of the people, the actors in scientific and agricultural life, and the representatives of all other industries that have a role in ensuring food security. ” He noted, “Today, Dimitrov’s Day, was not chosen for the event by chance. With it we hope to make a new start not only for the agricultural year, but also for Bulgaria’s path within the EU in terms of new techniques.”

You can see more material from there in our gallery.