GM in the pipeline

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The Gene Scene

The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) is a new joint initiative of Ausbiotech, CropLife Australia, the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the National Farmers’ Federation. ABCA has been established to help shape a new era for Australian agriculture by encouraging informed debate on biotechnology through the dissemination of credible, balanced, science-based information. Through the creation and sharing of research and knowledge, ABCA’s work aims to place biotechnology and gene technology into context as another invaluable innovation for Australian agriculture, ensuring that science guides public policy for the future of farming.

Licensed GM field trials: an industry snapshot

There are 22 field trials in Australia licensed to assess GM crops of relevance to the grains industry. The modifications range from herbicide tolerance and disease resistance, to improved oil properties and tolerance to abiotic stresses such as drought and saline conditions.

Close-up photo of grain crops

PHOTO: Evan Collis

Table 1 outlines the crops involved in the trials, the modifications in the pipeline and the organisations driving the research.
A further field trial licence application has been submitted by the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries. This application relates to wheat modified for improved yield and drought tolerance. Nuseed Pty Ltd is also seeking approval to trial canola modified for increased omega-3 fatty acid content in oil.

All GM crop trials undertaken in Australia must be licensed by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator and they are subject to strict conditions covering activities such as transport, storage, use and post-harvest monitoring.

Higher-yielding and drought-tolerant

By manipulating a longevity hormone in plants, known as cytokinin, scientists in Israel have genetically modified plants to live longer, cope for long periods without water and yield more.

In plants, ageing occurs when cytokinin levels drop, so the researchers prevented the breakdown of the juvenile hormone, which prevented ageing.

“We not only extended the plant’s life and managed to make it yield more. We also extended the shelf life of the vegetables and fruits of the plants,” says Professor Shimon Gepstein from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, who led the research.

Professor Gepstein says vegetables and fruits harvested from the GM plants lasted up to three times longer. “These plants can survive droughts, they can go on for a month without water,” he says, adding that they require 60 per cent less water compared with non-GM plants.

This research was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US.

TABLE 1 Field trials assessing GM grain crops in Australia
Crop Genetic modification Organisation
  • Herbicide tolerance
  • Herbicide tolerance
  • Yield, plant development
  • Pioneer Hi-Bred Australia
  • Monsanto Australia Ltd
  • Victorian Department of Environment
    and Primary Industries (DEPI)
Canola and Indian mustard
  • Herbicide tolerance
  • Herbicide tolerance, hybrid breeding system
  • Bayer CropScience
  • Bayer CropScience
  • Gene tagging
Lupin (narrow-leaf)
  • Herbicide tolerance
  • University of Western Australia
Perennial ryegrass and tall fescue
  • Composition – animal nutrition
  • Victorian DEPI
  • Altered oil profile (increased oleic acid content)
  • Food consumption (human nutrition)
    and food composition (processing)
  • Abiotic stress tolerance
  •  CSIRO

  • Victorian DEPI
Wheat and barley
  • Composition – food (human nutrition), yield
  • Food consumption (human nutrition), yield,
    disease resistance, abiotic stress tolerance
  • Abiotic stress tolerance, yield, food composition (human nutrition)
  • CSIRO (several licences)

  • University of Adelaide
White clover
  • Disease resistance
  • Victorian DEPI
    (several licences)
SOURCE: Office of the gene technology regulator

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