Prof. Sir Peter Gluckman
Centre for Science in Policy, Diplomacy and Society, University of Auckland
Professor Sir Peter Gluckman ONZ KNZM FRSNZ FRS trained as a paediatrician and biomedical scientist and holds a Distinguished University Professorship at the Liggins Institute of the University of Auckland. He also holds honorary chairs in University College London, University of Southampton and National University of Singapore (where he acts as chief science advisor to the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences). He has published over 700 scientific papers in perinatal and developmental physiology, neuroscience and endocrinology, evolutionary biology and medicine. He has authored both technical and popular science books. He chaired the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (2014-2017).
Sir Peter is chair of the International Network of Government Science Advice (INGSA) and president-elect of the International Science Council (ISC). From 2009-2018 he was the first Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand. He was also Science Envoy for the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and coordinated the secretariat of the Small Advanced Economies Initiative. He has written and spoken extensively on science-policy, science-diplomacy, and science-society interactions. He is currently Head of the Centre for Science in Policy, Diplomacy and Society (SciPoDS), a Research Centre and think-tank hosted within the University of Auckland’s Public Policy Institute.
He has received the highest scientific and civilian honours in New Zealand and numerous international scientific awards. In 2016 he received the AAAS award in Science Diplomacy. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of New Zealand, a member of the National Academy of Medicine (USA) and a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (UK).
Advanced Breeding Technology
Plant improvement has progressed over the last 10,000 years – based on continuous selection of advantageous heritable characteristics such that plants match prevailing environmental conditions and offer increased yields. In a way this culminated in the success of Borlaug’s ‘Green Revolution’ but this was very dependent on vast amounts of water, fertilisers, and pesticides. Such ‘classical’ breeding is conducted by the deliberate selection of useful spontaneous plant mutations; much higher rates of mutation were later induced by chemical and radiological mutagens, again from which useful traits could be selected and crossed with existing germplasm.
A further shift came in the 1980s with the development of gene modification (GM) approaches, based on the ability to insert additional genetic material into a plant’s genome, offering useful traits. The arrival of this GM technology quickly led to diverse regulatory approaches – reflecting far from uniform societal perceptions of risk, benefit and precaution. Since this time, initial fears concerning public health and environmental impacts have not been realised. However, diverse views on GMOs remain and are largely based on different value sets.
But biosciences continue to evolve. There is an explosion of knowledge about the genomes of target species and there are new methodologies that now allow the engineering of very specific changes in gene regulation, rather than changing the gene itself or inserting genes from other species. Such gene editing offers the potential to allow for precision in altering gene regulation in a desired and potentially regulated manner. Gene editing, in its various forms, makes it possible to manipulate the gene-environment interaction in ways that are likely to enhance plant productivity, reduce fertiliser use and significantly improve pest and disease resistance. This has immediate connection to the broader goals of reducing greenhouse gases emissions, improving global food security and indigenous ecosystem conservation. Such new plant-based technologies will also play a huge part as the food industry moves from being commodity and consumer-based to understanding the potential of food for wellbeing. Plant-based alternative meats and milks are examples of this. Synthetic biology (for example, applied to soil microorganisms) is a further new technology that will likely emerge in plant production systems.
Internationally, gene editing has be subject to diverse regulatory approaches depending on whether the focus is on technology used or on the traits being developed, and on whether it is perceived as fundamentally different to naturally occurring mutation or not. As a general principle, with fast moving technologies, adaptive approaches to regulation seem logical. However, social consensus and license remains the central and important issue – and New Zealand does not have well-established processes for achieving such. Hyperbolic claims must be avoided on all sides of any dialogue about the use or limits on use of disruptive new technologies. Ultimately what position New Zealand takes will depend on global trends, relative market advantage, the pressures of externalities such as climate change, and domestic politics.