A Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is a plant, animal or micro-organisms whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering and which creates a new combination of genes that does not occurs naturally. For example, a plant can be protected against insects by introducing the CRY gene of a bacteria in its genome. In the EU, the GMO products placed on the market are subject to strict regulation. The GMO laboratory of Sciensano develops and validates methods for the detection of GM plants and microorganisms in feed, food and additives, and applies them in routine analyses. Its job is to support the Belgian control authorities in charge of the GMO monitoring and to guarantee the freedom of choice of each consumer.
The GMO laboratory is part of the scientific service Transversal activities in Applied Genomics (TAG) dealing with the traceability of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in food and feed. In particular, the laboratory targets the genetic markers present in transgenic plants and derived from food and feed products available on the EU market. This is done in function of the labelling and post-marketing monitoring of GMOs and the legislation applying to the “low level presence”. The activity of the laboratory relies on the Directive 2001/18 / EC and the Regulations EC / 1829/2003, EC / 201⅙19, 2013/287/E, concerning GMOs, information to the consumers and protection the environment, when commercialising products and derived products containing GMOs.
The 3 pillars of the GMO laboratory are:
We provide expertise at different levels. At a national level, we provide scientific support to the Belgian control authorities. We provide technical advice related to the risk assessment of new GMOs, as well as technical solutions for issues related to GMO detection. As an international player, we are also member of the European Network of GMO Laboratories (ENGL) and have a mission to assist the EU reference laboratory (EU-RL) in its legal duties. This activity plays an eminent role in the development, harmonisation and standardisation of means and methods for sampling, detection, identification and quantification of GMOs.
As a control laboratory, we ensure the development and validation of real-time PCR and digital PCR methods as well their use in routine under flexible scope of accreditation (ISO 17025) for the detection, identification and quantification of GMOs in food and feed available on the EU market. In this context, our main stakeholder is the Belgian Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC). We are also working, on demand, to help companies in the control of their products.
We are continuously aim to develop and implement innovative applied genomics approaches to solve issues related to GMO’s and we work in strong collaboration with the Biotech and Bio-IT platforms, the others two units of the TAG service. Therefore, we have developed tools based on DNA walking and third generation sequencing (MinION) to detect and characterise unauthorised GMOs present on the EU market that can cause safety issues. We are currently developing, through the SPECENZYM project and on our own resources, tools for the characterisation of products originated from microbial fermentation that might be accidentally contaminated by genetically modified micro-organisms (GMM).