Detlef Weigel: A mutation is a mutation is a mutation
Speaker: Detlef Weigel, Department Molecular Biology, Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology
Chair: Dorothee Staiger, RNA Biology and Molecular Physiology, Bielefeld University
Organizers: Study Group Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of Plants
With following discussion of the current perspective of applying targeted mutagenesis by CRISPR/Cas technology for plant breeding in the light of the EU legislation on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
We are living in an era of rapid global change, and how quickly organisms can adapt to these rapid changes is an important question. Adaptation proceeds through migration and new combination of existing genetic variants, but it may also rely on new mutations. For many years, my lab has been interested in the rate and spectrum of spontaneous mutations. We were the first to measure these in greenhouse and field grown plants, and one of the major surprises was how frequent new mutations are, even in very specific places of the genome.
A central tenet of Darwinism is of course that mutations occur randomly, independently of their effects on the organism, and that natural selection is sufficient to explain the observed differences in the rate with which different genes change. We have recently discovered that essential genes mutate less often than other genes, and that apparent sequence conservation results both from lower initial mutation rates and stronger selection. Unfortunately, this non-randomness of spontaneous mutations has already been used by opponents of genome editing to argue for genome edits being unnatural and therefore dangerous.