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Potatoes with Jellyfish Gene Glow When Thirsty

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December 18, 2000

GM potatoes that glow green when they need watering
by Paul Kendall

GENETICALLY modified potatoes that glow when they need watering have
been developed by scientists.

The vegetables' leaves have been implanted with a fluorescent gene from a
jellyfish, which can be seen using a handheld monitor.

Researchers say using the plant could increase the efficiency of food production
by raising crop yields, leading to lower shop prices.

And the technique could be used on root vegetables, such as carrots and parsnips.

Team leader Professor Antony Trewavas, based at the University of Edinburgh,
said: 'The best-placed organism that can tell you what is happening in terms of
environmental insults like dehydration and mineral depletion is the plant itself.

'It has been shown that if potato crops do not get enough water the harvest can
be reduced by up to two thirds.' At present, farmers have no reliable method to
test whether their crops have adequate water, except to wait for signs of wilting.

But by then, the plants will have already slowed down their growth rate to
ompensate reducing the size of the harvest.

With the new system, a small number of GM potatoes would be planted near
the crop.

The glowing leaves would tell the farmer whether watering was necessary,
saving the cost of needless irrigation as well as maximising crop yield.

Prof Trewavas and his team created the 'intelligent' potato by adding a gene
from the jellyfish aequorea victoria.

The gene makes the leaves glow when it is triggered by a protein that forms
as the plant becomes dehydrated.

The researchers have done more than three years of laboratory experiments
and hope to start field trials within months. But environmental campaigners
yesterday condemned the project and called on the scientists to scrap plans
for the trials.

Peter Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said: 'We don't think there is any justification
for releasing genetically-modified food into the environment before a full assessment
as been done of the effect on human health.

'The majority of people will be very disturbed by this.' Prof Trewavas said the
GM plants would be removed before the main crop was harvested so there was
no danger of them being eaten.

He said: 'These "watchers" are planted at the same time as the crop in the same
field but in a different area and regularly monitored for signs of dehydration.
He added that because potatoes are tubers they do not cross fertilise using
flower pollination and therefore would not infect other plants.

From the DAILY MAIL (London)

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