Archive for April, 2014


March 2014. Source:

Researchers from ETH Zurich and the Julius Kühn Institute in Germany have created the first fire-blight-resistant apple. With the aid of so-called cis-genetic engineering, they transfered a resistance gene from a wild apple into the genome of a Gala apple. Tests in the greenhouse indicate that the gene is effective in protecting the tree against the disease.

Fruit farmers dread fire blight. The infection keeps flaring up again and causes considerable damage to apple plantations. In 2007, when the last major epidemic hit Switzerland, the damage the country suffered cost CHF 50 million and 250,000 trees had to be destroyed. Farmers primarily use sprays containing the antibiotic streptomycin against the pathogen, the bacterium Erwinia amylovora – a controversial method to save fruit trees and harvests.

A team of researchers headed by ETH-Zurich plant pathologist Cesar Gessler and from the Julius Kühne Institute in Germany report a genetically modified apple of the popular Gala variety in the latest issue of Plant Biotechnology Journal that is resistant to fire blight. In an earlier issue of this journal, the researchers presented an apple tree of the same variety that can ward off scab, a common fungal disease, thanks to the insertion of a scab resistance gene of a wild apple.

The researchers succeeded in identifying and isolating the gene for fire-blight resistance in a wild apple for the first time and confirming its function as a resistance-mediating gene…

Gessler and his collaborators were using so-called cis-genetic engineering. Additional genes are incorporated into cis-gene organisms using the biotechnological methods available. However, these are not foreign to the species, as in the case of so-called transgenic organisms. Instead, the apple only receives genes from another variety of apple.

The researchers tested the fire blight resistance properties of the cis-gene apple trees in the greenhouse at the Agroscope research facility in Wädenswil and in Germany by infecting them with fire blight. The results revealed that the resistance gene took effect and prevented the trees from becoming infected.

Although Gessler has now been able to reap the fruits of his years of research and development work, he does not believe that fruit farmers will ever grow these cis-gene apples. On the one hand, there is a still a moratorium on genetic engineering in Switzerland, banning the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMO), which also affects cis-gene crops. “Moreover, there is still too much opposition to GMO in Switzerland,” he says. And, unlike in the USA, here in this country and the EU we don’t assess individual products for approval, but rather the technology used while growing them. “Unless the attitudes and legislation change, the cis-gene Gala apple will never be grown,” the plant pathologist sums up.


24 March 2014. Source:

Members of a European Parliament committee on Wednesday (19 March) endorsed draft rules that define pollen as a natural constituent of honey and not an ingredient. GM pollen will only be labelled if it makes up more than 0.9 per cent of the honey.

The Committee report by British MEP Julie Girling from the European Conservatives and Reformist (ECR) group was adopted with 28 votes in favor to 25 against, with two abstentions, in the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). The new rules have already informally been agreed with the Council of Ministers.

“The ingredient/constituent argument has arisen due to the labelling implications of each option. If pollen continues to be considered a ‘constituent’, any GM pollen present would not need to be labelled. This is because, according to the GM regulation, only GM content above 0.9 per cent needs to be labelled. Since pollen only forms around 0.5 per cent of any batch of honey, it would never exceed the labelling threshold,” Girling said in a statement.

Current legislation does not state explicitly whether pollen in honey is, or is not, an ingredient. The Court of Justice sought to clarify this in a ruling in September 2011 which defined pollen as an “ingredient” of honey, thereby requiring producers to indicate “pollen” in a list of ingredients on the label of the product. However, in the rules proposed by the Commission, which have now been backed by the Parliament, pollen is defined as a constituent of honey, not an ingredient.

…The text will be voted on in the Strasbourg plenary between 14-17 April.


27 March 2014. Source:

A herd of 60 genetically engineered cows in northwestern Iowa could help unlock the key to producing new medicines that could treat human diseases, even cancer.

The Jersey-Holstein cloned crosses, which project director Dr. Eddie Sullivan of Sanford Research Applied Biosciences in Sioux Falls said somewhat in jest receive the “best medical care anywhere,” have been genetically engineered to produce human antibodies that fight diseases.

The project is far enough along that his staff of 19, including an animal care and veterinary contingent of six people who take care of the cows at a farm between Hull and Sioux Center, Iowa, is “very excited” about possibly starting human clinical trials in the first part of next year.

Sullivan will be making a major presentation this month before the Federal Drug Administration and must gain its approval before the human trials can begin.

The project – started at the University of Massachusetts in 1998 – took almost 12 years of genetic engineering for the cows to produce the human antibodies.

What the researchers did, said Sullivan, is engineer the cows to turn off the cow antibody genes and then introduce a little piece of DNA that produces the human version of antibodies.

“We basically reprogrammed the software inside the cows where they look at the human antibody and they think it’s theirs and they don’t reject it,” he said.

The human antibodies also protect the cows from animal diseases.

The key to helping unlock new treatments for humans, however, is that these cows can be hyper-vaccinated against all sorts of human diseases – the flu, for example.

The cows then become “antibody factories” and can donate plasma with the disease-fighting antibodies two or three times a month.


31 March 2014. Source:

Genetically modified technology has the potential to make grapes cheaper to produce and enhance Australian wine production.

But the Australian wine sector doesn’t support the use of GM in its industry.

Australian Wine Research Institute managing director Dan Johnson says GM is used in research, but the industry’s not ready for commercialisation.

“In the main, there is still widespread concern about what use of GM, for example, might do to export markets and what it might do to the perception of the overall Australian wine category.

“As a result, the wine category doesn’t look at that very seriously.”

Mr Johnson says the Australian industry is happy for other countries and industries to lead the way in this field.

“There are other agricultural crops and indeed possibly wine industries elsewhere in the world that might seek to take a lead in the practical implementation of that, if we get to the point where other agricultural crops, like wheat, can establish a long track record of safety.

“Wine is by comparison a luxury product, and it’s subject to a different set of principles and thinking, so we would look to take a back seat and allow other industries to take the lead.”