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Research  Reduced nicotine content, resistance to viruses, molecular “pharming”
Field trials EU 60
USA 374, in numerous countries
Approvals USA 1
Cultivation USA
Characteristic Reduced nicotine content
Perspective In the USA, tobacco with reduced nicotine is on the market.



Globally, tobacco is cultivated in more than one hundred countries, preferably in warm-temperate and sub-tropical climate regions. The largest national producer of tobacco is China, followed by Brazil, India, the USA, Zimbabwe, Turkey and Indonesia. In 2008, the cultivation area totalled almost 3,7 million hectares worldwide.



Only the leaves of the tobacco plant are used. They are dried, fermented, cut and processed into:

  • cigars or cigarettes
  • chewing tobacco or snuff


Gene technology: aims in research and development

Quality traits

Altered composition of the component compounds

  • Tobacco with reduced nicotine content: marketed under the name Quest, innovative cigarettes that contain less nicotine or none at all are available in the USA. Quest cigarettes are produced from GM tobacco in which a naturally-occurring enzyme essential to the formation of nicotine is blocked.

Agronomic traits

Resistance to pathogens

Weed management

Resistance against pests

Adaptation to factors of climate and location

  • resistance to drought and cold

Renewable raw materials

Production of pharmaceutical compounds

  • Molecular pharming: use as a biorector in the production of substances that are pharmaceutically or industrially useful.
    Tobacco often is chosen as a production platform, since it is easily modified genetically. Furthermore, it is not used as food or feed and therefore it is easier to manufacture active compounds in tobacco without fear of these compounds mixing with food or feed. In many countries, numerous field tests in this direction are underway.

Plant development

In biotechnology, tobacco often is used as a model plant for the testing of new procedures and in research on the function of specific genes. Therefore, field trials with GM tobacco in many cases should not be categorised as product development but instead as basic research - for example, in experiments with the following goals:

  • altered period of flowering

  • yield enhancement (male sterility, the production of hybrids with higher yields, heightened rates of photosynthesis and absorption of nitrogen)

  • the formation of specific compounds that prompt the ageing process is suppressed, which retards the wilting of leaves.

  • the formation of ethylene is suppressed, which retards the process of ripening and lengthens the available storage time.

Land reclamation

  • Phyto-reclamation of earth that is contaminated with heavy metals: the plants are altered in such a manner that they are able to grow in such earth and enrich their plant mass with the heavy metals.

  • Rehabilitation of ground with landmines: tobacco plants are being developed with leaves that become red when growing on ground that is contamined with landmines.


Field trials with GM tobacco

Total applications 60
Countries France 42, UK 7, Spain 6, Italy 2, Finland 1, Germany 1, the Czech Republic 1
Period 1992-2010
Traits Altered contents (nicotine content, molecular pharming), herbicide tolerance, resistance to nematodes and viruses, male sterility, basic research
USA 374
Period 1985-2010
Other countries Canada, Argentina, Japan, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Mexico, India, Serbia


Use of GM tobacco

EU approvals
In 1994, a herbicide-resistant tobacco was approved that was developed in France. According to contemporary law, this approval is no longer valid.
Worldwide approvals
  For cultivation As food or feed
USA 1  
Characteristics Reduced nicotine content
EU No significant cultivation has taken place in France.
USA In the USA, cigarettes with reduced nicotine content are available under the market name Quest. However, no information is available on the economic significance of the cultivation of nicotine-free GM tobacco.


 GMO Database
GM Food and Feed: Authorization in the EU
GMO Database: Contains information on every GM plant that has been approved or is awaiting authorisation in the EU.
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