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Cisgenesis Is Still Genetic Modification with All the Attendant Risks

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Food Safety Research Center page.

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. 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).

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.    
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