GM crops: under development
Most GM crops under development by the industry are major commodity crops (especially soya and maize) which have been genetically modified with several stacked traits i.e. including resistance to one or more herbicides plus several different toxins intended to kill pests.
The next generation of GM crops consists of crops engineered to be tolerant to more toxic weedkillers such as 2,4-D and dicamba (see Herbicide tolerant GM crops.
However, the promotional efforts of the companies usually focus on products that are further from the market, such as crops with altered nutrient content, or genetically engineered to survive climate change. These are complex traits that are never likely to be delivered but which allow the industry to use third party scientists to make promises about the future in order to secure research funding in return for delivering the industry's PR message. Science journalists always fall for the promises because that is how science journalism works.
Genetic research is also being undertaken on a wide range of other plants and crops, such as wheat, rice and and cassava, fruit and vegetables, and grasses and trees.
Many 'next generation' GM crops have been promised since the US government first decided to subsidise and facilitate research on GM crops thirty years ago (see the 1981 US Office of Technology Assessment report). A few nutrient-altered crops are now in the pipeline, but many other traits such as salt-tolerance or nitrogen-fixation have proved very difficult to deliver.
You can find further details about some of these 'next-generation' GM crops using the menu on the right.
'Next generation' food and feed crops
The predictions made by scientists advising the Foresight project on Global Food and Farming Futures in 2010 about when some of the new GM food and feed crops might become available are given below (from Godfray et al. 2010). Although some crops with altered oil content are close to market, there are reasons to be sceptical that many of the other applications will ever be delivered.
Short term (5 to 10 years) 'next generation' GM crops
- Nutritional biofortification in staple crops and sweet potato.
- Resistance to fungus and virus pathogens in potato, wheat, rice, banana, fruits, vegetables.
- Resistance to sucking insect pests in rice, fruits, vegetables.
- Improved processing and storage in wheat, potato, fruits and vegetables.
- Drought tolerance in staple cereal and tuber crops.
Medium term (10 to 20 years) 'next generation' GM crops
- Salinity tolerance in staple cereal and tuber crops.
- Increased nitrogen-use efficiency.
- High-temperature tolerance.
Long term (more than 20 years) 'next generation' GM crops
- Apomixis (in which plants produce seeds without the need for fertilization) in staple cereal and tuber crops.
- Nitrogen fixation.
- Denitrification inhibitor production.
- Conversion to perennial habitat.
- Increased photosynthetic efficiency.
'Next generation' other crops and traits
Other areas of active research include:
- using plants as factories for drug production, including vaccines and antibodies.
- genetically modifying plants, including maize and trees, to be better suited to producing biofuels for use as transport fuels.
- Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTS) - including Terminator Technology - to prevent plants from reproducing.
- Press articles
- Market Watch: Monsanto's Integrated Yield Pipeline Advances A Record 18 Projects Across Multiple Research Areas (8th January 2013)
- Western Farm Press: Cotton advancements flowing through technology pipeline (11th October 2011)
- Corn & Soybean Digest: Corn Trait Pipeline: A Field of Dreams (1st October 2011)
- External links
ISB Overview and Summary Charts
Shows which traits are being researched, based on a database of US field trials.
- COGEM (2014) Research report Survey of Field trials with Genetically Modified Plants - Global trends and developments
- Independent Science News: Fakethrough! GMOs and the Capitulation of Science Journalism (7th January 2014)
- IRRI: The state of play: genetically modified rice (8th January 2013)
DEFRA: Green Food Project (July 2012)
Advocates setting up a new pro-GM 'Leadership Council' to lobby for GM crop research and increase public subsidies for it.
- FoodManufacture.co.uk: Green Food Project opens door to GM science (10th July 2012)
- United Soybean Board: Pipeline of biotech events and novel trait releases
- JRC (2009): What can data on GMO field release applications in the USA tell us about the commercialisation of new GM crops?
- ISB Overview and Summary Charts