Archive for December, 2014


A Tale of Two GMO Transplant Techniques

12 November 2014 Source:

Ever since scientists announced they could place functional foreign genes into plant cells some 30 years ago, people have been arguing about the pros and cons of genetically modified crops. On one hand, GM crops produce larger, heartier yields, and could help solve the world’s food shortage problem. On the other, something about eating a tomato whose genes have been tampered with can be a little unsettling and, well, unnatural.

Not that the biotech industry has been paying much attention to consumer’s unease. Almost as soon as scientists announced that plants could be genetically altered to suit human needs, companies began scrambling to create new, modified organisms as quickly and efficiently as possible. In the last 15 years, herbicide-tolerant and pest-resistant crops have become the standard in the United States and a handful of other Western countries, and have almost entirely replaced conventional planting methods. (Europeans have displayed slightly more skepticism in this regard—GM crops remain banned in many EU countries.) …

Two of the techniques for transplanting genes are transgenesis and cisgenesis. Both involve introducing one or more genes into a plant. However, cisgenesis involves only genes from the same species or a cross-compatible species, a process that could otherwise happen—though over a considerably longer period of time—through breeding or other natural methods. Transgenesis, however, combines genes between unrelated species in a way that could never happen on its own. Like cold-water fish genes, which have been inserted into strawberry plants to prevent the fruit from freezing. Obviously there is a reluctance to accept GM foods that have been created with transgenesis rather than cisgenesis, because these are viewed as ‘unnatural’.

However, while both are used in what are called “genetically modified” crops, there is no way to tell which GM foods have been created via transgenesis versus cisgenesis, as international GMO regulations do not discriminate between the two methods. Recent research into these two techniques suggests that both are, scientifically speaking, safe and acceptable means to creating GM crops. However, a wider implementation of cisgenic techniques could ease anxieties about transgenesis and lead to increased consumer acceptance. “There is reasonable evidence that consumers are more comfortable with the use of genes from within the same species than transgenes. However, future developments regarding the generation and commercialization of cisgenic crops will depend on application of less stringent regulation to these crops worldwide,” a 2013 report on the techniques concluded.




25 November 2014. Source:

A new potato that’s engineered with gene deletion doesn’t have to be regulated by USDA.

The USDA’s deregulation of J.R. Simplot’s GM potatoes recently generated much publicity, but another GM potato was quietly cleared for commercialisation without undergoing that regulatory process.

Cellectis Plant Sciences, a subsidiary of a French pharmaceutical company, has genetically modified potatoes to experience less sugar buildup during cold storage, thereby helping to preserve their quality. The crop also contains less of a potentially cancer-causing compound.

These traits are similar to Simplot’s “Innate” potato but Cellectis’ product wasn’t subject to the same environmental assessments and public notice and comment requirements.

The difference is that Simplot used agrobacterium, a plant pest, to transfer genes from wild and cultivated potatoes, which causes the Innate variety to fall under USDA’s regulatory purview.

Under the USDA’s interpretation of federal law, which has been upheld in court, the agency’s authority over genetically engineered crops is limited to those that are potential plant pests.

In the case of Cellectis’ potato, the company did rely on a protein from a blight-causing bacteria to remove unwanted genetic material from the variety.

However, that bacterial protein wasn’t incorporated into the potato’s genes, which convinced the USDA that the variety isn’t a plant pest and doesn’t require a permit for field release or interstate movement, according to documents recently released by the agency.

“We knocked out DNA sequences that inactivated a gene,” said Dan Voytas, chief science officer for Cellectis.

Cellectis hopes the variety will gain broader market acceptance than previous genetically engineered varieties that were deregulated by USDA because the technology simply removes genetic material, rather than inserting it from other species, he said.

Roughly 10-15 percent of potatoes are lost during storage due to sugar buildup, and the company hopes to significantly cut that waste, Voytas said.

Before it can make actual claims about waste reduction, Cellectis must first conduct large-scale tests that are now possible due to USDA’s decision, he said.

The company expects it will take several years before enough of its potatoes are available for commercial production, and it still plans to clear the variety with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

Also, Cellectis will seek regulatory approval in foreign countries that import U.S. potatoes, Voytas said. “There’s still quite a bit of effort in front of us.”