Australian scientists to tackle GM negativity
Australian researchers are "quietly confident" that negative public perceptions around genetically modified foods can be changed through methods that only alter plants through genes from their own species.
The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is undertaking biotechnological research to help growers overcome common pest and disease issues in vegetative crops, as part of Horticulture Australia Limited's (HAL) transformational research and development program.
In a release, QUT Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities director, Professor James Dale, said vegetative propagation was the process of producing a new sprout or plant by using a cutting from the parent plant, essentially making a clone of the previous generation.
Many fruits, vegetables and tubers are grown using this process, but two key ones are potatoes and bananas, which will be the target crops in the study, using cisgenics and RNAi technologies to develop "marker-free" genetic transformations.
The HAL release said this method differed from traditional genetic modification which involved adding outside genetic material – often derived from bacteria – as markers into the plant DNA.
"Being a clone, it’s impossible to make any genetic improvements along the way to help the plant cope with some of the common issues facing the wider industry such as the challenge of maximising nutrient uptake or helping to manage common pests and diseases with minimal pesticides and fungicides," Dale said.
"This research will allow us to take an accepted variety of banana for example and correct the common problem such as disease while retaining the original variety."
The research will also investigate new techniques to bring stability to introduced genes across generations.
"This has previously been a challenge due to what’s known as 'gene silencing' which is where other genes in the original DNA prevent the new and desired trait from being expressed in later generations," Professor Dale explained.
It appears the approach of avoiding genes that are foreign to a given species is taking root in the world of GM research, as also evidenced by the response of a Spanish research institute to explain its genetic modifications to develop antioxidant-rich oranges.