RE S EARCH “I am expecting the first Phytophthora resista W ageningen University (the Netherlands) will soon be starting a project for the development of a genetically modified Phytophthora resistant potato. For this purpose it has received 9.9 million euros from the Fonds Economische Structuurversterking (Fund for Economic Structure Reinforcement). The European Union, however, requires very strict procedures for new varieties, the genes of which are directly transferred by bioengineers. Up to now, all forms of gene transfer have until today been subject to the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) regulations, including the form of gene transfer that Wageningen will start using now. The researchers in Wageningen want to transfer genes from resistant crossable wild potato varieties to existing potato varieties with the aid of genetic modification. Before Wageningen can start putting this into practice, the transfer with species-specific genes must be removed from GMO regulations. Dr Evert Jacobsen, professor at Wageningen University, has therefore started a debate to accomplish this. “Varieties from cisgenesis should especially become available for the small and medium-sized enterprises.” You recently took the lead to move genetic modification of species-specific genes in plants from GMO regulations. Why this plea? The current GMO regulations are fully focused on the trade off of heterospecific genes between organisms. To guarantee the safety of this technology, the early pioneering scientists themselves drew up voluntary GMO regulations. They were, however, based entirely on techniques whereby a gene from one organism is transferred to a completely different organism. The reason why current regulations focus on this point is because, at the start of genetic modification, only bacterial or viral genes or parts from these genes were being used, and natural plant genes were hardly touched. At that time, it was already clear that animal genes can also be used in plants and vice versa, and all that raised questions. It still did not concern individual genes from different gene pools, with which no experience had as yet been acquired. Hence the GMO regulations. And the exchange of plant genes, that does not raise questions? A great deal of development work has been carried out in molecular biology in the past ten years. All that research has meant, for example, that we now have complete gene maps on hand for many cultivated plants. We have now unravelled all the maize genes, and the mysteries of the potato genes will soon also be revealed. This knowledge will make it possible to exchange, through genetic modification, only species-specific genes. This new possibility with species-specific genes is called cisgenesis. And you are of the opinion that cisgenesis should be allowed? My plea is to look at this particular issue from a different point of view. I think that the way regulations are applied to transgenesis need not necessarily be applied to GMO with cisgenesis. Let’s try to move the use of species-specific genes out of the definition of the GMO regulations, and exempt it. Is that possible? It’s what happened to mutations in the past. A mutation originally fell under the GMO definition, but was exempted. The same occurred with protoplast fusions. Fusions between crossable species are exempted and those between noncrossable species are not. In fact, this type of relaxation is already being applied in microbiology. Here, the transfer of genes within the same species is not called cisgenesis, but self-cloned genes. Those self-cloned genes are genes that come from the bacterium itself or from some related species. They are used, for example, for a higher production of enzymes and these are no longer considered a GMO product. 4 Potatoworld 2006 Pagina 3

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