Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Genetic use restriction technology

Genetic use restriction technology (GURT), colloquially known as terminator technology, is the name given to proposed methods for restricting the use of genetically modified plants by causing second generation seeds to be sterile. The technology was developed under a cooperative research and development agreement between the Agricultural Research Service of the USDA and Delta and Pine Land company in the 1990s, but it is not yet commercially available. Because some stakeholders expressed concerns that this technology might lead to dependence for poor smallholder farmers, Monsanto Company, an agricultural products company and the world's biggest seed supplier, pledged not to commercialize the technology in 1999. Late in 2006, it acquired Delta and Pine Land company.

The technology was discussed during the 8th Conference of the Parties to the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity in Curitiba, Brazil, March 20-31, 2006.

Variants

There are conceptually two types of GURT:

1. V-GURT: This type of GURT produces sterile seeds meaning that a farmer that had purchased seeds containing v-GURT technology could not save the seed from this crop for future planting. This would not have an immediate impact on the large number of primarily western farmers who use hybrid seeds, as they do not produce their own planting seeds, and instead buy specialized hybrid seeds from seed production companies. However, currently around 80 percent of farmers in both Brazil and Pakistan grow crops based on saved seeds from previous harvests. Consequentially, resistance to the introduction of GURT technology into developing countries is strong. The technology is restricted at the plant variety level - hence the term V-GURT. Manufacturers of genetically enhanced crops would use this technology to protect their products from unauthorised use.
2. T-GURT: A second type of GURT modifies a crop in such a way that the genetic enhancement engineered into the crop does not function until the crop plant is treated with a chemical that is sold by the biotechnology company. Farmers can save seeds for use each year. However, they do not get to use the enhanced trait in the crop unless they purchase the activator compound. The technology is restricted at the trait level - hence the term T-GURT.

Possible advantages

Where effective intellectual property protection systems don't exist or are not enforced, GURTs could be an alternative to stimulate plant developing activities by biotech firms.

Non-viable seeds produced on V-GURT plants will reduce the propagation of volunteer plants. Volunteer plants can become an economic problem for larger-scale mechanized farming systems that incorporate crop rotation.

Under warm, wet harvest conditions non V-GURT grain can sprout, which lowers the quality of grain produced. It is speculated[weasel words] that this problem would not occur with the use of V-GURT grain varieties.

Use of V-GURT technology could prevent escape of transgenes into wild relatives and prevent any impact on biodiversity. Crops modified to produce non-food products could be armed with GURT technology to prevent accidental transmission of these traits into crops destined for foods.

Possible disadvantages

There is a concern that V-GURT plants could cross-pollinate with non-genetically modified plants, either in the wild or on the fields of farmers who do not adopt the technology. Though the V-GURT plants are supposed to produce sterile seeds, there is concern that this trait will not be expressed in the first generation of a small percentage of these plants, but be expressed in later generations. This does not seem to be much of a problem in the wild, as a sterile plant would naturally be selected out of a population within one generation of trait expression.

As with all genetically modified crops, the food safety of GURT technology would need to be assessed if a commercial release of a GURT containing crop were proposed.

Initially developed by the US Department of Agriculture and multinational seed companies, “suicide seeds” have not been commercialized anywhere in the world due to an avalanche of opposition from farmers, indigenous peoples, civil society, and some governments[which?]. In 2000, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity recommended a de facto moratorium on field-testing and commercial sale of Terminator seeds; the moratorium was re-affirmed in 2006. India and Brazil have already passed national laws to prohibit the technology

1 comment:

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