10 June 1999
Gene crops can make natural pollen
SCIENTISTS at Cambridge University are developing a new generation of genetically modified (GM) crops that produces pollen free of modified genes.
Opponents of genetic engineering fear that GM pollen could contaminate organic fields, fertilise wild relatives, and sully honey when collected by bees.
The new varieties, which could be on the market within five years, are designed to produce GM-free pollen while retaining GM attributes such as herbicide resistance.
The new method of genetic engineering involves modifying chloroplasts which are not passed down the male line and so none of their genes are present in pollen.
Seed companies or farmers need only to keep a line of female GM plants to cross with GM or natural pollen to make new seeds carrying the desired trait.
The technique has been used on herbicide-resistant tobacco and scientists are now looking to make tomatoes and oilseed rape that produce GM-free pollen.