What really is in the pipeline
from GM crops?
Dr Janet Cotter
Greenpeace International Science Unit
University of Exeter
The current situation
Concerns of GM crop cultivation
release of GMOs to the environment
(i.e. not contained use in lab).
related to the trait (e.g. effect of insect resistant
GM crops on non
related to the genetic insertion
outside the complex
regulatory network that controls
gene expression .
can interfere with normal plant function.
What we hear…
GE crops are widely grown
2) GE crops can contribute to food security (in the
future) because they can deliver crops with…
Enhanced micronutrients (e.g. Golden Rice)
Quist et al.
2013. Hungry for Innovation: pathways from GM crops to
: European Environmental
Agency (EEA) Late lessons from early warnings: science, precaution, innovation
. Ch. 19. www.eea.europa.eu
GM crops are grown
all these GM
crops are either
insect resistant or
No GM crops for increased yields.
current GM crops increase
designed for large scale commodity
Farmers face issues of contamination and liability.
(see, e.g. IAASTD 2008,
, Quist et
2013 op cit.)
GM crops do not currently contribute
to food security.
Current commercial GM crops
Current commercial GM crops contain relatively
simple constructs that produce a non
production of protein conferring
tolerance to a particular herbicide
production of protein toxic to a
Even for these relatively simple constructs,
questions surround effects, safety is questioned.
Typical insert for a simple GM trait
Genetic insert for Roundup Ready Soya
Main focus of crop development is traits to cope
with climate change (e.g. drought tolerance) or
increased nutrition (e.g. enhanced vitamins).
Most of these desirable traits are controlled by
I.e. they are “complex” traits.
GM crops for complex traits
At the R&D stage
not in commercial farming
Most of the “hopeful” traits, e.g. nitrogen fixation,
Nature of the genetic engineering is complex.
Often require several genes, including regulatory
sequences (e.g. ‘Golden’ Rice).
expression of one inserted gene (e.g.
Monsanto’s drought tolerance maize).
xample of complex genetic
enetic insert for
for complex traits
Plant chemistry is complex.
Metabolic pathways are not completely known or
High potential for unexpected and unpredictable
effects with complex genetic engineering.
May have human health implications, e.g. if a toxic
product resulted from an unexpected pathway.
May have environmental implications, e.g. if an
unexpected product was toxic to wild animal species.
Genetic engineering for complex
traits is very difficult
Technically very difficult
Assessment for food, feed and environmental
safety very difficult.
Genetic engineering is not suited to complex
Stuck in the pipeline?
Tolerance to new herbicides, e.g. 2,4
herbicide tolerance with insect resistance
multiple insect resistance
multiple herbicide tolerance?
Herbicide tolerance and insect resistance
in new crops, e.g. eggplant
What’s really in the pipeline for GM
New ways of inserting genetic material into
Some have more precise placement
Some use genes from the same species
Some don’t produce a new protein, but maybe
other risks (e.g. uptake of small RNAs affecting
gene expression in humans
But it’s the insertion of genetic material that gives
rise to the concerns.
New genetic engineering technologies
“Junk” DNA is no longer junk, but important in
Complexity of genetic regulation being
New theories on activation of duplicate genes
in response to stress.
Makes genetic engineering look very
Better understanding of genome
function, more concern over GM
Non genetic engineering plant
Biotechnology is not Genetic
Often “biotechnology” is taken to be
equivalent to “genetic engineering”
But biotechnology is far broader.
encompass a wide array of
plant breeding technologies, of which only
one is genetic engineering.
The contribution of Marker Assisted
Marker Assisted Selection (MAS) or “smart
Allows the identification of “markers”
segments of DNA located near the gene of
The presence of this marker in offspring
indicates that the desired gene is present.
It is “smart” conventional breeding
Drought tolerant maize in Africa
In the past 5 years, 34 drought tolerant varieties (hybrid
pollinated) have been released in 13 sub
Saharan African countries and are used by an estimated
2 million smallholder
2) Drought tolerant rice in Asia
IRRI has developed drought
tolerant varieties which have
been released in several
countries including India,
Philippines and Nepal
Drought tolerant wheat from CSIRO (Aus.)
Submergence tolerant rice (IRRI).
Bacterial blight resistant rice in Philippines,
India and China.
Nutrient enhanced crops: pro
vitamin A sweet
potato and maize; iron and zinc rich bean and
Yet more examples…
Further details of
MAS in Greenpeace
MAS has come of age
The bottleneck to MAS is identification of
markers, which is facilitated by sequencing of
Several crop genomes have been made
publically available in the last few years:
rice (2002), maize (2009), sorghum (2009), soy
(2010), potato (2011), pigeon pea (2011), tomato
(2012), chickpea (2013).
GM crops are almost entirely herbicide tolerant or
not likely to change in the future.
Genetic engineering is not suited to complex traits
not appropriate technology for desired traits.
Other modern breeding methods, such as Marker
Assisted Selection (MAS) are producing varieties with
especially public funded efforts.
BUT… it’s not only about crop varieties, it’s about
how we farm.