Saturday, August 17, 2013

Cisgenesis Is Still Genetic Engineering

Cisgenesis Is Still Genetic Engineering With All The Attendant Risks


A new genetically modified (GM) ‘blight-resistant’ potato is currently being tested in a three year large-scale field trial in Carlow, Ireland conducted by the Irish government in collaboration with the Dutch Wangeningen University [1]. Potato blight, a devastating fungal disease caused by Phytophthora infestans, was responsible for the terrible Irish potato famine in 1845-52. The trial, started this summer, is a follow up study of the initial small-scale field trial performed in 2012

. With scepticism and distrust towards GM crops prevalent in Ireland, a country known for environmental consciousness, proponents of the new trial are attempting to further blur the scientific facts associated with the blight-resistant potatoes. These potatoes are being dubbed ‘cisgenic’ instead of ‘transgenic’, claiming that cisgenesis is the process of transferring a gene from one species to another sexually compatible one. Wageningen University and collaborating organisations have even gone to the lengths of publishing a website with spurious definitions in order to spread the confusion as far as possible (see below) [2].

So what exactly does cisgenesis and transgenesis mean? Transgenesis can be defined as the transfer of foreign genetic material into an organism by genetic engineering techniques. As is the case with this GM crop, the host potato species (Solanum tuberosum cv. Desiree) is different from the wild relative species Solanum venturii that provided the blight-resistance gene, Rpi-vnt1.1. S. tuberosum cv. Desiree does not contain the blight-resistant gene. Therefore, the transferred Rpi-vnt1.1 gene is a foreign gene i.e. transgene.

This contradicts the description on the website of a cisgenic plant as one that contains “no foreign genes”, which makes no sense when the reason they are putting in that gene is because the host plant does not have it! Most fundamentally, cisgenesis is still genetic engineering and employs the methods of transgenesis to make a GM crop with all the attendant risks. The new terminology is invented simply to deceive the public.


What exactly is the GM potato being trialled in Ireland?

In 2012, a small-scale field trial with 24 GM and non-GM potato plants was performed to assess how well the GM potato survived Irish conditions. Starting this summer, the second trial spanning three years, will compare 1758 plants of 3 varieties: GM desiree, non-GM desiree as well as the organic blight-resistant Sarpo Mira, which is thought to contain around 5 wild blight-resistant genes. The researchers will study the effects on soil diversity, the genetic diversity of the blight strains isolated from the study, as well as the impact of an integrated pest management system on blight by the end of this year.

The GM potato was generated by researchers at the University of Wageningen as part of a wider EU project termed ‘Amiga’ which involves 22 European institutions to test environmental and agronomic impacts of GM crops in Europe [8]. The variety Solanum tuberosum cv. Desiree was used as the host variety and now carries a gene called Rpi-vnt1.1 from the wild potato species Solanum venturii.

The Rpi-vnt1.1 gene and its native promoter were inserted into the potato using Agrobacterium tumefaciens mediated transformation (ATMT). This is a common method of genetic engineering and comes with well known risks described thoroughly in our recent report Ban GMOs Now [9]. Among the risks is horizontal gene transfer to other organisms (see [10], Horizontal Gene Transfer Does Happen, SiS 38). Agrobacterium has been shown to transform at least 80 different non-plant species including fungi, yeasts, algae, mammalian and human cells. One possible mechanism of horizontal gene transfer with this GM potato is the tendency of A. tumefaciens to persist in the GM plant after the experiment is completed where it can remain dormant while still harbouring the binary vector containing the transgene(s). This provides a clear opportunity for gene escape to other plants or other organisms. There is no evidence that researchers have ascertained the absence of A. tumefaciens in the new GM potato line. Clearly, horizontal gene transfer should be investigated in the field trial. But it is not.


GM Crops are not the answer to potato blight

While blight is considered one of the most devastating crop diseases, with the ability to kill leaves in 1o days, there are already non-GM blight-resistant potatoes available. As previously described by Dr Eva Novotny (see [15] GM Blight-resistant Potatoes – Who Needs Them?, SiS 47), there are at least 6 varieties already approved in the UK and are popular with farmers markets and the Dutchy-box scheme. GM crops on the other hand, have been shown to lower yields (see [16] US Staple Crop System Failing from GM and Monoculture, SiS 59), increase pesticide use, harmful to human health and the environment, as well as having only short-term functionality as pests including both target insects and weeds gain resistance to the GM crops (see [9] Ban GMO’s Now- Special ISIS Report). It is only a matter of time before the blight-causing Phytophthora infestans gain resistance to this GM potato, rendering it useless on top of being unsafe and most likely more expensive than conventional varieties.


Another GM crop that will raise resistance in target pests and weeds and have the ability to transfer foreign genes horizontally under unknown environmental scenarios with unknown consequences. How absolutely disappointing to see Ireland heading down this road. Monoculture is not the solution to feeding the world. Of all countries, Ireland should know this well. However, as we are seeing globally science has little to do with the proliferation of genetic modification of food crops. It is all about profit and control.

Also see:

GM Free Ireland Next Target In GM Invasion


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.