Science in Society Archive

Europe to Demand Strict Molecular Characterisation for GMOs?

New 'event-specific' molecular characterisation devised by Belgian government scientists is "highly important in the context food safety control". Monsanto's Roundup Ready GM soya is found to have scrambled and unknown genes. Is it legal? Is it safe? Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Prof. Joe Cummins report.

The Belgian government scientists point out that as labelling of foods containing GM ingredients is mandatory in all European member states, there is urgent demand for reliable and easy identification methods for GMOs. Furthermore, in both Europe and the United States, companies seeking to market a GMO must submit a technical dossier, and any new and relevant information has to be brought to the attention of the competent authorities.

Up to now, however, most GMO identification methods depend on detecting gene fragments and sequences that are within the construct, but does not allow anyone to "discriminate between different GMOs containing the same insert and to identify different GMOs containing different copy numbers of the same insert." The scientists stress the need for "event specific" identification and analysis, in other words, a method that gives unequivocal identification of the specific transgenic line that has resulted from a single transformation event. It also requires that the transgenic line must be genetically stable in the first place.

With that in mind, they have devised a method for characterising the junctions between plant DNA and insert DNA, which can be used to check the accuracy of the technical dossier submitted by the company. They used Monsanto's Roundup Ready soya as a test case.

Monsanto's technical dossier submitted for commercial approval claimed that RR soya had a single insert with the intended order of genes. It turns not to be the case. Not only is the gene order of the insert itself scrambled, the plant DNA at the site of insertion is also scrambled, and there is a large 534 bp fragment of unknown origin in there as well.

They state, "In the future, problems concerning the inaccurate description of transgene events can be avoided through a detailed characterisation of the transgene plant DNA junctions. Therefore, we welcome the idea that a detailed characterisation of the transgene plant DNA junction and of the plant target locus should be included in the technical dossier that is submitted to the competent authorities. These characterisation of the junction regions will also give the best information for the development of line specific identification methods, which are at lest from a European standpoint of high importance in the context of food safety control." That is precisely what ISIS has been pushing for since 1999 and before [2]. It also follows that RR soya must be withdrawn immediately for safety reasons.

Article first published 22/05/01


  1. Windels P, Taverniers I, Depicker A, Van Bockstaele E and De Loose M (2001). Characterisation of the Roundup Ready soybean insert. Eur Food Res Technol DOI 10.1007/s002170100336, © Springer-Verlag.
  2. Ho, M.W. (1999). Biosafety Alert. Submission to Biotechnology Group fo the Trans-Atlantic Economic Partnership on the Molecular Characterisation Required for GMOs.

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