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Genetically Engineered Wheat Article

C B C . C A N e w s - F u l l S t o r y :

Plant 'birth control' keeps GM plants from spreading

Last Updated Wed May 7 16:24:28 2003

SWIFT CURRENT-- A team of Canadian scientists say they've developed a way to prevent genetically modified crops from spreading their genes to nearby fields. The system is a kind of contraception for plants that stops genetically modified crops from crossbreeding with wild relatives in other fields. The controversial issue of genes spreading concerns some farmers and consumers.

Johann Schernthaner of Agriculture Canada's Eastern Cereal and Oilfeed Research Centre in Ottawa led the study, which appears in this week's online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Schernthaner told CBC Newsworld the system includes two components: * a "seed lethality" gene that prevents seeds from germinating but allows the plant to grow normally and produce seeds * a second component the represses the seed lethality gene, keeping it in check The contraceptive trick is that a genetically modified plant produces pollen that receives only one component, not both.

That means farmers can continue to reuse the modified seeds, but if they are crossed with a normal plant the resulting seeds won't grow. The researchers say the simple system doesn't require any special chemicals. It was demonstrated in the lab with tobacco plants but it needs to be refined and tested to ensure it works reliably in the field. Agronomists add the researchers need to show if the system is fully maintained in seeds from subsequent generations.

Ron Depauw is a scientist and wheat breeder with the Swift Current research station, one of a handful of Agriculture Canada facilities that will grow Monsanto's Roundup Ready wheat this year. Depauw hasn't fully reviewed the research. He said it is creative way to control pollen drift but it's only one piece of the puzzle. "This system does not address any of the other ways by which genes move, for example through volunteering, wind dispersal, contamination of equipment, movement by birds, animals, people &." Schernthaner said it could take several years before the technology is available to farmers.

In the meantime, grain farmers like Cameron Weppler near Swift Current say their markets aren't ready for GM wheat. Written by CBC News Online

 
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