Jonathan DG Jones
London Guardian
July 23, 2011

The term “genetic modification” provokes widespread fears about the corporate control of agriculture, and of the unknown. However, results from 25 years of EU-funded research show that there is “no scientific evidence associating GM plants with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms”. This of course does not prove GM methods are 100% safe, but makes clear there is no evidence to the contrary.

This Saturday, anti-GM campaigners plan to offload potatoes outside the John Innes Centre (JIC) in Norfolk – one of the country’s leading crop research institutes – for a “photo shoot”. They claim that our research trial of blight-resistant GM potatoes on a plot at JIC, one of only two ongoing GM research trials in the UK, is a “dangerous experiment”.

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The trial involves research on genes from wild potatoes. We have been able to isolate genes from wild species that make them resistant to UK races of the late blight pathogen, Phytophthora infestans, which causes £3.5bn in annual losses worldwide.

Phytophthora has evolved to circumvent all the 100s of resistance genes in most cultivated potato varieties. Resistance genes exist to recognise pathogens, enabling the plant to activate its natural defence mechanisms. The aim of the trial is to test whether resistance genes from wild potatoes will give commercial varieties the ability to detect when they are under attack by UK pathogen races, and then activate defence.

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