Discovery of topological LC circuits transporting EM waves without backscattering

December 28, 2018, National Institute for Materials Science
Discovery of topological LC circuits transporting EM waves without backscattering
Microstrip arrays used in this research. Credit: NIMS

NIMS has succeeded in fabricating topological LC circuits arranged in a honeycomb pattern where electromagnetic (EM) waves can propagate without backscattering, even when pathways turn sharply. These circuits may be suitable for use as high-frequency electromagnetic waveguides, which would allow miniaturization and high integration in electronic devices such as mobile phones.

Researchers are seeking topological properties with functions that are not affected even if the sample shapes are changed. Topological properties were first discovered in electron systems, and more recently, the notion has been developed for light and microwaves for building optical and electromagnetic waveguides immune to backscattering. However, realization of topological properties in light and microwaves normally requires gyromagnetic materials under an , or some other . In order to match existing electronics and photonics technologies, it is important to achieve topological properties based on conventional materials and simple structures.

In 2015, this  demonstrated topological properties in light and microwaves in a honeycomb lattice of dielectric cylinders such as silicon. This time, the team reported that in a microstrip,  attain topological properties when the metallic strips form a  and the intra-hexagon and inter-hexagon strip widths are different. The team also fabricated microstrips and measured electric fields on their surfaces, and successfully observed the detailed structure of topological electromagnetic modes, where vortices of electromagnetic energy polarized in a specific direction are generated during the .

This research demonstrates that topological propagation of electromagnetic waves can be induced using conventional materials in a simple structure. Because topological electromagnetic wave propagation is immune to backscatter even when pathways turn sharply, designs of compact electromagnetic circuits become possible, leading to miniaturization and high integration of electronics devices. In addition, the direction of vortex and the vorticity associated with topological electromagnetic modes may be used as data carriers in high-density information communications. All these features may contribute to the development of advanced information society represented by IoT and autonomous vehicles.

 Explore further: Topological photonic crystal made of silicon

More information: Yuan Li et al, Topological LC-circuits based on microstrips and observation of electromagnetic modes with orbital angular momentum, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-07084-2

Read more at:

Chrome OS code suggests Google plans to migrate Messages web app to


It appears Google plans on migrating its Messages web app from to, according to a Chromium Gerrit code edit spotted by 9to5Google. The code in question is a switch that instructs Chrome OS devices to visit — instead of — when users take advantage of the platform’s “Better Together” functionality. At the time of writing, isn’t active, though that could change over the next few weeks. It’s likely Google will keep both domains active for at least a couple of weeks while it migrates users to the former. The move comes part of a wider initiative by Google to reduce the visibility of Android as a major part of its brand arsenal. For instance, the company did not mention the operating system when it announced the Pixel 3 and 3 XL in October 2018. In the case of Messages, the SMS app was called Android Messages until recently. And in yet another example: at the start of this year, Google rebranded Android Pay to Google Pay.

Read more at MobileSyrup.comChrome OS code suggests Google plans to migrate Messages web app to

HomeKit Weekly: Nanoleaf Light Panels versus Canvas — interactive smart lighting comparison

Nanoleaf HomeKit lights are great for decorating and entertaining all year — long after the Christmas tree is taken down and the holiday lights are all boxed up. Nanoleaf now makes two styles of smart lights that illuminate your walls: Light Panels and Canvas. Here’s how they compare:

Nanoleaf Light Panels ($229), originally called Aurora, are triangular tiles that connect using a modular system to create colorful light designs that you can control with Siri or an iOS app. My description from December 2016 still holds up:

Nanoleaf Aurora is like a beautiful screensaver for your wall.

Nanoleaf has since added a new music module accessory that makes Light Panels react to music and sound, and the Nanoleaf Remote adds to the ways you can trigger modes.

Nanoleaf Canvas ($249) launched earlier this month and reshapes what you can do with Nanoleaf HomeKit lights. Canvas tiles are a bit smaller and use squares instead of triangles to make different designs possible. The music module is also built-in so interactive sound scenes work out-of-the-box.

Both smart light systems let you create colorful scenes that you can trigger with HomeKit using Siri or the Home app. Just add a pre-configured scene from the Nanoleaf app or create your own, then the scene becomes available with HomeKit.

The blue/red/orange/yellow/white arrangement (above, left) is a rocket scene I created for Light Panels that doesn’t change colors. You can also easily switch to a color-shifting scene (and back again) as seen below:

Nanoleaf Canvas similarly supports color-shifting scenes. (Both scenes sped up 4x for demonstration purposes.)

The triangular Light Panels are a bit larger and let you easily create designs with angled corners like stars, trees, or even rocket ships. The smaller Canvas squares won’t cover as much surface area without more tiles, but you can design more traditional patterns with similar light effects.

Light Panels are powered by a controller module that includes a power toggle and a scene selector. Canvas is a bit more clever and integrates power, brightness, and mode switching in a special tile with labeled touch controls.

The other trick that Nanoleaf Canvas has up its sleeve is that each tile can react to touch. Nanoleaf Canvas supports special interactive scenes that let you play games with your tile arrangement with scenes including “Whack A Mole”, “Simon”, “Game Of Life”, “Memory”, and “PacMan.”

Nanoleaf HomeKit lights are already great for mood lighting and entertainment. Light “games” could just be a gimmick on their own, but I can definitely see a simple game of “Whack A Mole” or “PacMan” being a great party trick — especially with kids.

Personally, I really like Nanoleaf Light Panels. The triangular tiles cover more wall space and let you create designs that look a bit less 8-bit. I recommend Nanoleaf Canvas for most people though — especially over similar products.

The modular system is just as easy to use and the built-in support for music scenes and brightness control make it more polished — plus the touch-controlled games add to the entertainment.

Catch up on earlier HomeKit Weekly entries below:

Matter can travel to the future through black holes, predicts new theory

Two new papers say everything we knew about black holes was wrong.

Toddler nightlight/stay-in-bed device

Living with a toddler is the best thing. It really is. Seen through their eyes, everything you’re jaded about becomes new and exciting. Every piece of music is new. Frog and Toad are real people. Someone doesn’t care that you’re really, really bad at drawing, believing that you’re actually a kind of cross between Leonardo and Picasso; and you have a two-foot-tall excuse to sing Gaston at the top of your voice in public. The parents of toddlers are allowed into the ball pit at soft play. There’s lots of cake. The hugs and kisses are amazing.

frog and toad

However. If my experience here is anything to go by, you may also be so tired you’re walking into things a lot. It doesn’t matter. The hugs and kisses are, like I said, amazing. And there are things you can do to mitigate that tiredness. Enter the Pi.

stay focused

I’m lucky. My toddler sleeps through. But sometimes she has an…aggravating habit of early wakefulness. After 7am I’m golden. I can do 6.30 at a push. Any earlier than that, though, and I am dead-eyed and leather-visaged for the rest of the day. It’s not a good look. Enter equally new parent Cary Ciavolella, who has engineered a solution. This is a project so simple even the most sleep-deprived parent should be able to put it together, using Pimoroni parts you can easily buy online. Cary has thoughtfully made all the code available for you so you don’t have to do anything other than build the physical object.

Pi nightlight

Cary’s nightlight can produce a number of different sorts of white noise, and changes colour from red (YOU’RE MEANT TO BE ASLEEP, KID) through orange (you can play in your room) to green (it’s time to get up). Coloured lights are a sensible option: toddlers can’t read numbers, let alone a clock face. It’s all addressable via a website, which, if you’re feeling fancy, you can set up with a favicon on your phone’s home screen so it feels like an app.

White noise – I use a little box from Amazon which plays the sound of the sea – and red-spectrum nightlights have solid research behind them if you’re trying to soothe a little one to sleep. Once you cross over into blue light, you’ll stop the pineal gland from producing melatonin, which is why I hate the fan I bought for our bedroom with a burning, fiery passion. Some smart-alec thought that putting a giant blue led on the front to demonstrate that the fan was on was a smart idea, never mind the whirling blades which are obvious to at least three of the senses. (I have never tried tasting it.)

With this in mind, I’ve one tiny alteration to make to Cary’s setup: you can permanently disable the green LED on the Pi Zero itself so that the only lights visible are the Pimoroni Blinkt – namely the ones that your little one should be looking at to figure out whether it’s time to get up yet. Just add the following to the Zero’s /boot/config.txt and reboot.

# Disable the ACT LED on the Raspberry Pi.

A buried lake on Mars excited and baffled scientists

Liquid water under so much ice is a hard sell, and only one of two orbiters has detected it

8:21AM, DECEMBER 17, 2018
Mars south pole

HIDDEN DEPTHS  Layers in the ice near Mars’ south pole, shown here in a 2012 composite image from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter, could conceal a briny lake buried 1.5 kilometers below the surface.

Headlines touting the discovery of water on Mars — again! — are a long-standing punchline among planetary scientists. But a discovery this year was something very different. 

Unlike previous claims of water-bearing rocks or ephemeral streaks of brine, researchers reported in the Aug. 3 Science that they had found a wide lake of standing liquid near the Red Planet’s south pole, buried beneath 1.5 kilometers of ice (SN: 8/18/18, p. 6). The purported polar pool, spotted by an orbiting satellite, is the largest volume of liquid water ever claimed to currently exist on Mars, and has probably been around for a long time. Both of those features raise hopes that life could survive on Mars today.

But months after the announcement, the discovery remains controversial. First, it’s not clear how that water could remain liquid when the temperature at that icy depth should be about –68° Celsius. Even salts dissolved in the water would have a hard time melting ice that cold. “This is the main objection that has been raised,” says one of the lake’s discoverers, planetary scientist Roberto Orosei of the National Institute for Astrophysics in Bologna, Italy.

The other concern is that a second Mars orbiter, which should be able to detect such lakes, has seen nothing so far.

Orosei, however, thinks he has the answer to both puzzles: If Mars’ south polar ice cap has a texture like Styrofoam, he says, that could both insulate the lake and befuddle the other orbiter.

Blue lagoon

Ice-penetrating radar beamed down from the Mars Express orbiter revealed a hidden lake on Mars. The blue triangle outlined in black in the middle is the purported lake.


Orosei and colleagues spotted the lake after years of analyzing data from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter, which aims radar at the planet to see below its surface. As radar waves bounce off an interface between two materials, the brightness of the reflection can tell scientists what those materials are. Orosei’s group found a bright triangular reflection measuring about 20 kilometers across at Mars’ south pole. A lake of liquid water beneath the ice is the most likely explanation, Orosei says.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has also observed the south pole with radar, has seen no sign of the lake. “It’s a big mystery,” says Toronto-based planetary scientist Isaac Smith of the Planetary Science Institute, who works on the NASA mission. “We’d love to figure it out.”

Tiny pockets of air in the polar ice sheet might explain the conflicting radar results, Orosei suspects. If the ice is riddled with holes, they may scatter the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s short-wavelength radar, like light filtering through a cloud. That scattering would hide the lake from the short-wavelength radar’s view. But Mars Express’ longer-wavelength radar could pass through the ice cleanly allowing it to reach and reflect off the lake.

The air in those holes would also help insulate lower layers of ice and raise the temperature there, or hold in heat from the planet’s interior more efficiently, similar to the way a Styrofoam cup keeps coffee hot.

“This is just a conjecture at the moment,” Orosei cautions.

Smith thinks porous, Styrofoam-like ice sounds plausible, but hard to explain. On Earth, ice normally packs tightly and becomes denser as it grows thicker. It’s hard to see how such a thick slab of ice on Mars would not do the same. Other orbital measurements suggest that Mars’ ice is even denser than regular water ice, which doesn’t leave much room for air holes.

But Mars’ south polar ice behaves differently than earthly ice in other ways too, Smith says. It doesn’t flow the way you would expect from tightly packed glaciers. Porous ice might explain why it flows differently, and more dust and other impurities in the ice could make up for the difference in density.

“It would be a big surprise,” Smith says. “But Mars is a unique place.”

If the ice is porous, there should be more insulated lakes hidden beneath the ice cap, Orosei says. The Mars Express team may have seen some hints of such lakes already, although it’s too early to be sure.

Finding additional lakes would be great news for the possibility of life there. If life took root in the past, it could still hang on in these long-lived subglacial lakes, like life does in similar lakes in Antarctica (SN: 9/20/14, p. 10).

“This means you would have a sort of Noah’s ark for life to exist today, if it ever developed on early Mars,” Orosei says. “The chances of finding extant life today would be much greater.”


R. Orosei et al. Radar evidence of subglacial liquid water on MarsScience. Vol. 361, August 3, 2018, p. 490. doi: 10.1126/science.aar7268.

Further Reading

L. Grossman. Mars (probably) has a lake of liquid waterScience News. Vol. 194, August 18, 2018, p. 6.

L. Grossman. What does Mars’ lake mean for the search for life on the Red Planet? Science News Online, July 27, 2018.

T. Sumner. Lake under Antarctic ice bursts with lifeScience News. Vol. 186, September 20, 2014, p. 10.

A Neuroscientist Explains Why Multitasking Screens Is So Terrible For Your Brain

16 DEC 2018

How many times have you sat down to watch TV or a movie, only to immediately shift your attention to your smartphone or tablet? Known as “media multitasking”, this phenomenon is so common that an estimated 178m US adults regularly use another device while watching TV.

main article imageWhile some might assume that frequently shifting your attention between different information streams is good brain training for improving memory and attention, studies have found the opposite to be true.

Media multitasking is when people engage with multiple devices or content at the same time. This might be using your smartphone while watching TV, or even listening to music and text messaging friends while playing a video game.

One recent study looked at the body of current research on media multitasking (consisting of 22 peer-reviewed research papers) and found that self-reported “heavy media multitaskers” performed worse on attention and working memory tests. Some even had structural brain differences.

The study found that “heavy” media multitaskers performed about 8-10% worse on sustained attention tests compared to “light” media multitaskers. These tests involved participants paying attention to a certain task (such as spotting a specific letter in a stream of other letters) for 20 minutes or more.

Researchers found that on these tests (and others) the ability to sustain attention was poorer for heavy multitaskers. These findings might explain why some people are heavy multitaskers.

If someone has a poor attention span, they may be likely to switch between activities quickly, instead of staying with just one.

Heavy media multitaskers were also found to perform worse than light media multitaskers on working memory tests. These involved memorising and remembering information (like a phone number) while performing another task (such as searching for a pen and piece of paper to write it down).

Complex working memory is closely linked with having better focus and being able to ignore distractions.

Brain scans of the participants also showed that an area of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex is smaller in heavy multitaskers. This area of the brain is involved in controlling attention. A smaller one may imply worse functioning and poorer attention.

But while researchers have confirmed that heavy media multitaskers have worse memory and attention, they are still uncertain about what causes heavy media multitasking.

Do heavy media multitaskers have worse attention because of their media multitasking? Or do they media multitask because they have poor attention?

It might also be an effect of general intelligencepersonality, or something else entirely that causes poor attention and increased media multitasking behaviours.

But the news isn’t all bad for heavy multitaskers. Curiously, this impairment might have some benefit. Research suggests that light media multitaskers are more likely to miss helpful information that isn’t related to the task they’re currently performing.

For example, a person may read with a radio playing in the background. When important breaking news is broadcast, a heavy media multitasker is actually more likely to pick it up than a light media multitasker.

So should you avoid media multitasking? Based on current research, the answer is probably yes. Multitasking usually causes poorer performance when doing two things at once, and puts more demands on the brain than doing one thing at a time.

This is because the human mind suffers from an “attentional bottleneck”, which only allows certain mental operations to occur one after another.

But if you’re wondering whether media multitasking will impair your attention capabilities, the answer is probably no. We don’t know yet whether heavy media multitasking is really the cause for lower performance on the tests.

The effects observed in controlled laboratory settings are also generally rather small and most likely negligible in normal everyday life.

Until we have more research, it’s probably too early to start panicking about the potential negative effects of media multitasking.The Conversation

André J. Szameitat, Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience, Brunel University London.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

World’s first lab-grown steak revealed – but the taste needs work

Nascent industry aims to reduce environmental impact of beef production

Lab-grown steak
 The prototype steak costs $50 for a small strip. Photograph: Aleph Farms

The first steak grown from cells in the lab and not requiring the slaughter of a cow has been produced in Israel.

The meat is not the finished article: the prototype costs $50 for a small strip, and the taste needs perfecting, according to its makers. But it is the first meat grown outside an animal that has a muscle-like texture similar to conventional meat.

It marks a significant step forward for a nascent industry that aims to provide people with real meat without the huge environmental impact and welfare problems of intensive livestock production. Other companies are producing beef, chicken, duck and pork cells in the lab, but for unstructured items such as burgers and nuggets.

No lab-based meat products are on sale to the public yet, though a US company, Just, has said its chicken nuggets will soon be in a few restaurants.

The lab-grown steak is at least three to four years away from commercial sale, according to Didier Toubia, the co-founder and chief executive of Aleph Farms.

The steak was produced using a mixture of cell types grown on a scaffold in a special medium, and Toubia said a series of challenges lay ahead to get the steak to market, including taste.

“It’s close and it tastes good, but we have a bit more work to make sure the taste is 100% similar to conventional meat,” he said. “But when you cook it, you really can smell the same smell of meat cooking.”

He said the $50 cost was “not insane” for a prototype. The first lab-grown beefburger, in 2013, cost €250,000. Toubia said the cost would come down as the production process was moved from the lab to a scalable commercial facility.

Another challenge is to increase the thickness of the steak, currently about 5mm. Here, the company is working with Prof Shulamit Levenberg, an expert in tissue engineering, at the Technion, Israel’s Institute of Technology.

Toubia’s team have already created a growth medium that is animal-free. The current standard for cell culture is foetal bovine serum, derived from the blood of cow foetuses, but it needs optimising. A few cells are needed to start the cell culture, and these are extracted from a living animal.

Plant-based alternatives to meat, such as the Impossible and Beyond burgers, have proliferated as people try to reduce the amount of meat they eat. But Toubia said: “Today, over 90% of consumers do eat meat and we think the percentage of vegetarians will not grow significantly despite many launches of plant-based products.

“If you want to have a real impact on the environment, we have to make sure we solve the issue of production, and we grow meat in a more efficient, sustainable way, with no animal welfare issues and no antibiotics.”

A series of recent scientific studies have found that huge reductions in meat-eating are essential in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and avoid dangerous climate change. One found that avoiding meat and dairy products was the single biggest way to reduce an individual’s environmental impacton the planet, from slowing the annihilation of wildlife to healing dead zonesin the oceans.

Lab-grown beef is very likely to have a much smaller environmental footprint than intensively reared beef. But Marco Springmann, at the University of Oxford, said: “Although the technologies are evolving, there is no indication that lab-grown meat is significantly better for the environment and health than existing alternatives to beef. The latest reviews have put the emissions of lab-grown meat at several times that of chicken and far above any plant-based alternative, in particular due to the large energy inputs needed during production.”

Louise Davies, of the UK’s Vegan Society, said: “We recognise the potential that lab-grown meat can have in reducing animal suffering and the environmental impact of animal agriculture. But whilst these products include starter cells derived from animals, they aren’t vegan.”

Other companies pursuing lab-based meat include Mosa Meats in the Netherlands, set up by Prof Mark Post, who produced the original lab burger in 2013, and Memphis Meats, now part-owned by Tyson and Cargill, two of the world’s biggest meat companies. There are also a series of earlier-stage companies such as Meatable, which aims to remove the need for repeated extraction of starter cells by creating lines that continuously multiply.

Despite creating a slaughter-free steak, Toubia said his company was not aiming to replace traditionally raised, grass-fed cattle. “We are not against traditional agriculture. The main issue today is with intensive, factory farming facilities, which are very inefficient and very polluting and have lost the relationship to the animal.”

New CRISPR technique could prevent obesity without cutting or editing a genome

A new technique called CRISPRa can increase the expression of a single gene without cutting or...
A new technique called CRISPRa can increase the expression of a single gene without cutting or editing DNA(Credit: Yur4you/Depositphotos)

An exciting new study from researchers at UC San Francisco has demonstrated how a new kind of CRISPR technique can increase the expression of certain genes, instead of the more traditional technique of actively cutting or editing DNA. The method was tested in mice by targeting two genes associated with hunger, with the animals reducing their food intake and not becoming obese.

The new gene modification technique, developed at UCSF, is called CRISPR-mediated activation (CRISPRa). The method utilizes CRISPR’s ability to target a specific DNA sequence but instead of cutting out a gene, or editing in a new one, it can more simply increase the expression of its target gene. The CRISPRa method reportedly results in less potential off-target effects as it isn’t causing any permanent change to a genome.


Our human genome holds two copies of every gene. A large variety of human diseases are the result of mutations in one copy of the gene in a pair. To test the efficacy of the CRISPRa method, the researchers focused on two genes known to regulate satiety and hunger, SIM1 and MC4R. Individuals suffering from severe obesity often have mutations in one of those genes, resulting in unregulated appetite and overeating.

The CRISPRa method was deployed in mice that were genetically modified to only have one working copy of either the SIM1 or the MC4R gene. The results were undeniably impressive, with the animals receiving the CRISPRa boost ultimately expressing amounts of both genes comparable to animals with two working copies of the genes.


“The results were dramatic,” explains lead author on the new study, Navneet Matharu. “Mice that were missing one copy of the Sim1 gene received the CRISPRa injections at four weeks of age and maintained a healthy body weight like normal mice. Mice that didn’t receive CRISPRa injections couldn’t stop eating. They started gaining weight at six weeks of age, and by the time they were 10-weeks old, they were severely obese on a regular diet.”


The long-term effects of just one CRISPRa dose revealed the treatment regulated an animal’s weight for at least 10 months with no reported adverse effects. Human trials using the technique may be a while away but the promising new technique suggests aggressively cutting or editing a genome may not be the safest or most effective way to harness the power of CRISPR.


“Though this particular study focused on obesity, we believe our system could be applied to any situation in which having only one functional copy of a gene leads to disease,” says Nadav Ahituv, senior author on the new study. “Our method demonstrates tremendous therapeutic potential for numerous diseases, and we show that we can achieve these benefits without making any edits to the genome.”


The new study was published in the journal Science.

EU ruling on gene-edited foods is holding us back

Gene-edited food has the potential to feed the world’s hungry, but may be blocked in the European Union

For nearly 15 years, Professor Nigel Halford has been trying to improve wheat. When wheat is cooked, it forms acrylamide, a carcinogenic chemical. Food producers in Europe are required to keep acrylamide content below acceptable levels, although researchers still don’t know whether burnt toast poses a threat to human health. Either way, Professor Halford, a crop scientist at UK non-profit Rothamsted Research, believes wheat is in need of an upgrade and that means reducing the potential for acrylamide to form.

You end up with a plant that’s identical to the plant you started with, but it has one small change

Professor Halford and his team have tried various tactics since embarking on the project in 2004, but in the last couple of years have been employing a new approach. CRISPR is a pioneering gene-editing tool which enables scientists to make precise changes to an organism’s DNA. Typically, researchers might remove part of the genetic code responsible for an undesired characteristic. In wheat, it’s believed that high levels of acrylamide production can be linked to a specific gene. “We’re trying to knock that out,” says Professor Halford.

CRISPR gene editing technology could transform food production

CRISPR gene editing has only been possible for six years, but the technology has already shown the potential to transform the world’s food supply. Safer wheat is just one possibility. Gene editing could create crops that stay fresh longer and are resistant to disease, insects and extreme environments.

It has been used to develop mushrooms that don’t bruise, high-yielding corn and soybeans packed with healthy oils. Traits like these could be achieved using traditional plant breeding or existing biotechnology, but Dr Tina Barsby, chief executive at crop science company NIAB, says: “Gene editing is so much faster. Years faster. When you’re talking about feeding the world, that’s important.”

Of course, genetically modified food promised similar benefits when it came to the market almost 25 years ago. Then came the panic over so-called “frankenfoods”, a public backlash and the introduction of strict regulation in markets including the European Union.

Gene editing is a different proposition. Professor Wendy Harwood, senior scientist at the John Innes Centre research institute, who is working to develop drought-resistant barley, says: “The value of gene editing is the precision, but also the range of things you can do.”

EU ruling chooses to class gene-edited foods as GMO

Unlike genetic modification, which typically involves inserting foreign DNA into an organism’s genetic code, scientists say gene editing is largely used to speed up the natural breeding process. “You end up with a plant that’s identical to the plant you started with, but it has one small change,” says Professor Harwood. “The same thing could have happened naturally.”

However, hopes that gene editing might herald a new dawn in the field of crop science were dealt a blow in July when the European Court of Justice ruled that gene-edited products should be treated as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and subject to stringent regulation that predates the CRISPR technology. While laboratory work will be largely unaffected, researchers say the ruling will make it almost impossible for European companies to bring gene-edited foods to market.

For Professor Halford, who hopes one day to see low-acrylamide wheat products on sale to consumers, “it was a hit in the head”, he says. While European politicians could still decide to amend GMO regulations to exclude gene-edited crops, some experts in the field believe negative public perceptions of crop science makes such a scenario unlikely.

Professor Huw Dylan Jones, chair in translational genomics for plant breeding, at Aberystwyth University, says: “There aren’t that many votes in support of biotechnology. It’s easier to keep your mouth shut.”

Other countries around the world embracing gene editing for food

If the ruling stands, it will put the EU out of step with other markets around the world. In Canada, crops are regulated on the basis of the traits present within them rather than the method used to produce them. Argentina, China and the United States have all adopted a light-touch regulatory approach to gene editing.

In March, the US Department of Agriculture said gene-editing tools would not be regulated, while noting “they can introduce new plant traits more quickly and precisely, potentially saving years or even decades in bringing needed new varieties to farmers”.

Major biotech firms including Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont Pioneer are all investing heavily in gene-editing technology and this investment is being focused in markets where there are fewer regulatory hurdles to innovation.

Syngenta says its gene-editing research is largely taking place in China and the US. “We naturally chose to co-locate our main research resources in genome editing in those countries which are supportive of seeds technologies, and consequently host the main weight of leading academic organisations and companies working in the area,” the company says.

In the US, smaller firms such as Benson Hill Biosystems and Cibus have also entered the market and are developing products including more resilient cacao trees and disease-resistant rice.

Crop scientist at Rothamstead Research

EU ruling will hold Europe back from vital food innovation

Stefan Jansson, head of plant physiology at Umeå University in Sweden, says this kind of innovation is now unlikely to happen in Europe. “Anyone who is really trying to help the world and make plants that are better suited for unfavourable conditions will have problems because now they can’t commercialise their products,” he says.

Producers in the US are racing to bring a gene-edited soybean to the commercial market. Meanwhile, the future for gene-edited foods in Europe looks doubtful. Professor Halford believes he is close to producing an improved variety of wheat, but this achievement will be tarnished. “We won’t be able to do anything with it,” he says.

In the UK, the fate of gene-edited foods appears to have been decided before most consumers have even heard of the technology. “They won’t get the choice,” Professor Halford laments.