Gene Flow Mitigation
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When cultivating genetically modified (GM) plants or livestock, it becomes necessary to prevent "genetic pollution" i.e. their genetic modification from reaching other conventionally hybridized or wild native plant and animal populations by using gene flow mitigation usually through unintentional cross pollination and crossbreeding. Reasons to limit gene flow may include biosafety or agricultural co-existence, in which GM and non-GM cropping systems work side by side.
Scientists in several large research programmes are investigating methods of limiting gene flow in plants. Among these programmes are Transcontainer, which investigates methods for biocontainment, SIGMEA, which focuses on the biosafety of genetically modified plants, and Co-Extra, which studies the co-existence of GM and non-GM product chains.
- The first approach requires transplastomic plants. In transplastomic plants, the modified DNA is not situated in the cell's nucleus but is present in plastids, which are cellular compartments outside the nucleus. An example for plastids are chloroplasts, in which photosynthesis occurs. In some plants, the pollen does not contain plastids and, consequently, any modification located in plastids cannot be transmitted by the pollen.
- The second approach relies on male sterile plants. Male sterile plants are unable to produce functioning flowers and therefore cannot release viable pollen. Cytoplasmic male sterile plants are known to produce higher yields. Therefore, researchers are trying to introduce this trait to genetically modified crops.
- The third approach works by preventing the flowers from opening. This trait is called cleistogamy and occurs naturally in some plants. Cleistogamous plants produce flowers which either open only partly or not at all. However, it remains unclear how reliable cleistogamy is for gene flow mitigation: a Co-Extra research project on rapeseed investigating the matter has published preliminary results which cast doubt on the attainment of a high degree of reliability.
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