Gene-Editing and The Consumer: Colombian Cochran Fellows at NC State

WRITTEN BY Jennifer Terlouw,

In December 2019, CALS International Programs received a group of Cochran fellows visiting from Colombia to study gene editing policy and regulation in agriculture at NC State. This visit is, like the recent visit of the Algerian Cochran fellows, the first time that Colombian Cochran fellows have come to work with CALS faculty members and other US agriculture organizations through CALS International Programs.  

 This Cochran fellowship was designed around providing insight on how the US government accepts and analyzes gene-edited products in the marketplace and how the general public perceives these products to five Colombian agriculture professionals. The Cochran fellowship group included Cristian De la Hoz Escorcia and Maria Jimenez Moreno, both Specialized Professionals with Invima; Diego Galvis Rey, a Technical Seed Advisor with ICA (Instituto Colombiano Agropecuario); Alfonso Alberto Rosero, the Seed Division Technical Director at ICA: and Diego Villanueva Mejia, a Professor and Head of Department at Universidad EAFIT.

The Cochran fellows met with a collection of NC State faculty to discuss the role that specific faculty members, like Dr. Rodolphe Barrangou and Dr. Fred Gould, have had in the advancement of gene-editing technologies. Dr. Barrangou is known for his work with CRISPR-Cas9, a method for genome editing that is much more efficient than other existing methods, and Dr. Gould’s lab is researching the adaptations of pests and insects in response to genomic changes.

 After their visit with NC State, the Cochran fellows traveled to Washington, DC. The fellows met with government agencies like the USDA, APHIS, FDA, and the EPA, as well as organizations like the International Food Information Council Foundation to learn more about combating scientific misinformation related to gene-edited products and food science. This was a key step in reaching the goals set for their fellowship; clear and correct scientific communication with the public is essential to reaping the largest benefits from gene-editing and food production.

 Diego Rey of the Instituto Colombiano Agropecuario (ICA) described how valuable the experience of visiting with NC State and US agencies was to him:

 “I learned that a good regulatory framework, in this case, genome editing, allows startups, research institutes, and traditional biotechnology companies to develop studies and advances in research that will benefit the economy and well-being of a nation like Colombia.”  

Pictured left to right: Cristian de la Hoz Escorcia, Alfonso Alberto Rosero, Diego Villanueva Mejia, Dr. Jennifer Pancorbo (Director for Industry Programs, BTEC), Tommy White (Interpreter), Wilma Rivera (Interpreter), Maria Claudia Jimenez Moreno, Diego Galvis Rey