Science in Society Archive

Message from I-SIS on Terminator Crops

There are a variety of GM constructs that engineer male or female sterility, acting at different stages in the development of the plant. Their intended purpose is to undermine the natural reproductive process of plants, so farmers cannot save and replant harvested seeds. For that reason, we have referred to all of them as 'terminator technologies' after RAFI, although they include several other patents besides the ones owned by USDA/Delta & Pine.

The patents cover not only the terminator techniques that engineer seed/pollen sterility, but also the control of expression of specific traits such as insect tolerance, drought tolerance or modification of secondary metabolism. The overall aim is certainly to control either seed production or agronomically important traits at source.

The USDA/Delta & Pine patents include just one type of such technologies. In fact, other versions patented by Plant Genetic Systems (now Aventis) have been field tested since 1990 in Europe, and Canada, and have been promoted by UK ACRE, same as USDA, on grounds that they would prevent gene flow, ie, for biosafety purposes.

But they do not work for biosafety. On the contrary, the genes used, as well as the constructs will have catastrophic consequences on biodiversity and health. I-SIS has commented to the UK Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment in their public consultation last year, objecting to these crops.

We have also written a series of papers showing why it cannot prevent gene flow. Female sterile genes and even male sterile genes can spread directly via pollen. The complicated constructs are much more unstable and prone to transfer horizontally to unrelated species with potentially devastating consequences. In addition, the genes used include cell poisons and genome scramblers.

Please use the following links to get to the key papers.

  1. ISIS Comments to ACRE
  2. Terminators at large, Killing fields near you.
  3. Terminator recombinase does scramble genomes
  4. Terminate the terminators
  5. Terminator gene product alert
  6. Terminators in new guises

From Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
Institute of Science in Society

Article first published 23/08/01

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