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Stories

New GM plants: Authorization bottleneck


Until now, GM crop cultivation has focused on maize, soybeans and cotton. Although a lot of research is conducted on other crops (new GM plants that can cope with drought, flooding and attacks by pests, and plants that have been fortified with nutrients are being grown in greenhouses around the world and tested in field trials), not many have been authorized. Two French scientists have now published an overview of the most important research projects.


Virus-resistant beans will soon be grown in Brazil. Genetically modified varieties of maize, soybeans and cotton are commonplace in agriculture. A few new plants have been added recently, including potatoes with lower levels of acrylamide and apples that take longer to go brown.

 

Aubergine with resistance to chewing pests: Already grown in Bangladesh and likely to be cultivated in India soon. However, it has not yet been authorized because plant genetic engineering is also a controversial subject in India.
Photo: Babuji Barcot
 

Plant biotechnology is often criticized for having produced only a handful of commercially grown crops with few characteristics – developed and marketed by a small number of multinationals and grown on a large scale in several countries. In fact, only a few other crops with genetically modified characteristics have reached a stage where they are ready to be used commercially.

In recent years, these have included a virus-resistant bean in Brazil, which was developed by a public agricultural research institute and was authorized in 2011.

Whether or not a GM plant can be used commercially does not depend on scientific progress in laboratories and greenhouses. Despite promising approaches and concepts that work in principle and have already been tested in field trials, GM plants are not being developed further so that they can be used commercially.

One key reason for this is that GM plants have to go through a very time-consuming and costly authorization process, which has become increasingly complex over recent years. The cost of authorizing a new GM plant ( event) is between one million and 15 million US dollars. If the plant is to be authorized worldwide, rather than for a limited market, the average cost rises to 35 million dollars. In addition, it takes a long time (13 years on average) to bring a GM plant to market from the initial discovery to the point where it is ready for commercial application.

Another reason for the slow commercial development of GM plants is the continuing lack of acceptance for products that have had anything to do with genetic engineering – particularly in the EU, but also increasingly in the USA, China and India. This means that authorizations are being delayed or blocked for political reasons, as is currently the case in the EU. The study authors claim that this has discouraged many small and medium-sized companies and public institutions from considering genetic engineering methods as potential solutions in plant research.

Nevertheless, plenty of research and development projects are using genetic methods to protect plants against pests and diseases or to adapt them to extreme climate conditions, such as drought, saline soil or flooding. Increasingly, research projects are also focusing on improved product characteristics – modifying the nutrient composition of the crop or fortifying plants with healthy substances. A key focus here is on fortifying staple crops in developing countries with vitamins and minerals. In this area, public institutions often work together with companies, foundations and humanitarian organizations in large multinational research programs.

The projects make use of conventional breeding programs involving molecular biological methods ( smart breeding) as well as classic genetic engineering, in which foreign genes – including genes from other species – are inserted into the plants, methods like RNA interference (RNAi), in which the activity of certain genes is blocked, and cisgenesis, in which only genetic material from the same species is transferred.

Other methods that enable very targeted modifications of the plant genome are currently being developed and, in some cases, are already being applied (gene editing). The extent to which these methods will be used in future plant research and plant breeding will depend in part on whether they are classed as genetic engineering.

 

GM plants that have been authorized in recent years and examples of GM plants that are ready for commercial applications

Apple

Does not go brown

Authorized 2015

USA

 

Resistance to apple scab

Field trials since 2012

Europe (ETH Zurich)

Aubergine

Resistance to eggplant fruit and shoot borer

Cultivation trial in Bangladesh since 2014

India, Bangladesh

Banana

Resistance to fungi and bacteria

Field trials in Uganda

Africa (National Banana Research Program)

Cassava (manioc)

Fortified with zinc, iron,
vitamin A

Field trials in Kenya and Nigeria

Africa (Biocassava Plus Program)

Bean

Virus resistance

Authorized 2011

Brazil

Millet (sorghum)

Fortified with iron and zinc

Field trials in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Nigeria

Africa (Africa Biofortified Sorghum)

Potato

Lower acrylamide levels

Authorized 2014

USA

 

Resistance to potato late blight

Field trials since 2009

Europe (Wageningen University)

Lucerne (alfalfa)

Lower lignin levels, better feed quality

Authorized 2014

USA

Maize

Drought tolerance

Authorized 2013

USA

Rice

Fortified with provitamin A

Field trials in the Philippines, close to commercialization

Europe, Asia (Golden Rice)

 

Fortified with zinc and iron

Close to commercialization in Bangladesh

Harvest Plus Program

Soybeans

Modified fatty acid composition

Authorized 2009 and 2011

USA, Canada

Citrus fruits

Resistance to citrus greening

Field trials since 2009

USA

Sugar cane

Drought tolerance

Authorized 2013

Indonesia

Wheat, maize, soybean, sugar cane

Drought tolerance

Field trials in Argentina

Argentina, USA

 

Source: Transgen.de

 

 


An EU Research Project

What are the risks of growing GM crops?

What are the benefits?

Numerous studies have addressed the potential impacts of genetically modified (GM) plants. Yet the existing evidence on the effects of GM plants is often contradictory and the quality of scientific research varies widely.

Therefore, the GRACE project will establish new tools for assessing the quality of existing studies and will conduct comprehensive reviews to identify health, environmental and socio-economic impacts of GM plants.

More information


Videos:

GMO Soybeans & Sustainability

Less soil erosion and fuel consumption: herbicide tolerant soybeans are promoting sustainable cultivation methods.

 

Glyphosate in European agriculture

Interview with a farmer



Glyphosate containing herbicides are not only used in fields with GM crops. They also allow conventional farmers to sow directly into stubble fields without ploughing. Glyphosate has replaced mechanical weed control in many crops and has had an important impact on agricultural practices and crop yields in Europe over the past few decades.

Source:
European Glyphosate Task Force

Animation: The Authorisation Process in Motion!
Applying, consulting, and making a decision: The long and winding road to GMO authorisation in EU
start animation
 Biosafety research:

Impact of Bt maize on
insect communities


Impact of Bt maize on
honey bees

More videos

 
Jenny asks: How does the PCR method work?


At Germany's Institute for the Chemical and Veterinary Analysis of Food (CVUA) in Freiburg they use the PCR method to test food for traces of GM plants.

February 24, 2015 [nach oben springen]

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