Alumnus Publishes Report on New Plant Breeding Techniques

Alumnus James Walker has published a research briefing on new plant breeding techniques

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James Walker left Hills Road in 2011 with A Levels in Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Geography, and is currently studying for a PhD in Zoology at Oxford. He recently completed an internship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology where he published a research briefing for parliamentarians on new plant breeding techniques, meant for a lay audience.

Below are the introduction and overview of the publication, written by James Walker and Peter Border. The full, four-page report can be found on the website.

New breeding techniques have developed rapidly in recent years, allowing plant breeders to introduce new, or modify existing, traits efficiently in key crops. There is debate over whether some of these techniques constitute genetic modification (GM) as defined in EU Directive 2001/18 and are thus subject to the various EU GM regulations. This note outlines some of the new techniques, their applications and the regulatory challenges they raise.


  • The term New Breeding Techniques (NBTs) covers a range of methods that could accelerate improvement of crop varieties.
  • NBTs include emerging techniques commonly referred to as ‘genome editing’ (POSTnote 541) that aim to manipulate DNA at specific locations to rapidly generate potentially useful traits.
  • There is debate over how these techniques should be regulated, and whether some or all of them fall within the scope of EU legislation on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 
  • Some of the crops produced using these techniques are difficult to distinguish from conventionally bred (non-GMO) plants.
  • Following the vote to leave the EU, the UK may choose to make its own regulatory decisions regarding NBTs.

Congratulations James on the publication of your report, and thank you for sharing it with us. If you would like to be featured on the Alumni network, please contact us at