Renewable Farming

New method for inserting multiple genes into plants also complicates health safety issues


The farm press is widely hailing a new scientific paper by three ARS/USDA genetic scientists who developed a gene-transfer procedure which could become a “multiple re-entry vehicle” for transferring a large number of traits into a plant at once. In trials, 10 traits were introduced in one insertion.

August 10, 2018 — This methodology creates more massive crop performance changes than early single-trait gene-editing tools, or those like CRISPR which modify existing DNA within a plant.

Its acronym is GAANTRY, assembled from “Gene Assembly in Agrobacterium by Nucleic acid Transfer using Recombinase technologY.”

Link to original Plant Journal paper

One report claims: “The technology is expected to speed up the process for developing new varieties of potatoes, rice, citrus and other crops that are better equipped to tolerate heat and drought, produce higher yields and resist a myriad of diseases and pests. Crops with greater resistance to pathogens and insects could greatly reduce pesticide use and prevent billions of dollars in crop losses.”

One of the paper’s authors, Roger Thilmony, says “Making genetic improvements that were difficult or impossible before will be much easier because we can now insert not just one or two genes, but multiple genes, into a plant in a way that will lead to predictable outcomes.”

Ah, yes… predictable.

But not precise. The authors note on results so far: “Approximately 90% of the events identified using a dual antibiotic selection screen exhibited all of the introduced traits. A total of 68% of the tested lines carried a single copy of the selection marker transgene located near the T‐DNA left border, and only 8% contained sequence from outside the T‐DNA.”

What, then, are the sequences from “outside” and how will they impact the final crop’s health profile when consumed?

Also there’s no information in the paper regarding the target crop’s genes which are deleted or shifted out of sequence. All such transmutations can influence the metabolic and immune response of animals or people who consume the “substantially equivalent” crop.

It’s the scientist’s job to find better means to better, more nourishing crops. In this case, ARS/USDA researchers are offering what could be a productive tool to crop breeders. But now — the primary issue is, will EPA, FDA and others guarding the gateways do a equally thorough, long-term job of safety testing?

The history of regulatory agencies’ willingness to protect Americans is not encouraging, as attorney Steven Druker documents in his 500-page analysis, Altered Genes, Twisted Truth.