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Policy reports 16.06.2009

Zinc finger on the pulse: Developments and implications of zinc finger technology

(090616-02)

COGEM continually monitors new techniques that blur the distinction between genetic modification and conventional biotechnological techniques. As a consequence, COGEM reports a new development within genetic modification: zinc finger technology. In this topic report, COGEM provides a global overview of the developments in this area. Furthermore, potential risks of zinc fingers and possible consequences of zinc fingers for legislation on genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are discussed.

Zinc fingers are a new method for making specific changes to hereditary material. This promising new technology may be of great importance to both the medical and plant biotechnology sector. The first applications of the technique are in sight.
Industry may raise questions on whether the use of zinc fingers falls under the GMO regulations. Most activities involving zinc fingers will probably be subject to GMO regulations. Only the use of zinc finger transcription factors introduced into the cell in protein form seems not to involve genetic modification.
A European working group has been established to investigate whether a number of techniques, including zinc fingers, should fall under the GMO legislation. This report aims to support the Dutch government and the European working group in formulating a position by highlighting the differences and similarities between zinc fingers and other new modification techniques.