A recent study published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as a supporting publication has revealed that certain genetic criteria may determine the food safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and could lay the groundwork for developing new methods to assess the risks of genetically engineered food and feed.

The study involved an extensive review of literature on Open Reading Frames (ORFs) relevant to the risk assessment of GMOs. ORFs are specific, separate pieces of an organism’s DNA and RNA that determine which proteins that organism produces. In food and feed, these proteins may contain allergens or toxins. In their literature review, the researchers aimed to identify methods to accurately predict whether ORFs in GMOs would express any protein, which is critical to understanding the safety of a food or feed.

The literature showed that specific genetic criteria can determine GMO safety, such as codon identity, nucleotide composition, and mRNA structure. This knowledge can be used to develop new methods to assess GMO risks.

Still, further research is required to address existing limitations and challenges. For example, the available data is not well-structured and have a wide range of applications, with insufficient information specific to food and feed. Additionally, the reliability of in silico methods for ORF definition, prediction and selection has yet to be adequately validated.

Although the literature review identified certain features of ORF nucleotide sequences that might prove useful in assessing the likelihood of expression of relevant ORFs for the risk assessment of GMOs, the criteria underlying this likelihood require further research and effort to be embedded in a tool. The combination of currently available prediction methods into a single, unified tool would be complicated due to their diversity and their often organism-specific datasets.

The research was conducted by a collaboration between EFSA and Innovamol, a data science consultancy.