Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

GM Approvals Score a Century

By Simon Grose

Almost 40 years after the genetic engineering revolution hit Australia, it is beginning to look like the establishment.

Simon Grose is a Director of Science Media (sciencemedia.com.au).

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The chief steward of Australia’s gene jockeys, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), has granted its 100th licence to release a genetically modified (GM) organism into the Australian landscape. The details show how things have changed and stayed the same in the GM stakes.

Old favourites at the starting gates were cotton, agrochemicals giant Monsanto, and the common soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, whose Bt gene in the leaves of plants gives Lepidoptera caterpillars fatal heartburn.

In the early days, inserting one Bt gene in a suitable place within the cotton genome was enough to win a start. But the 100th licence allows trials of strains with up to six introduced genes – three from B. thuringiensis to beat the bugs, and one each from three other soil-dwelling bacteria to bestow herbicide resistance.

In a back-to-the-future twist, the trial strains will be derived by conventional crossing of three GM cotton varieties, and will carry any of four combinations of the introduced genes.

The licence allows the four strains to be trialled in WA, NSW and Queensland over 6 years at up to ten 10-hectare sites each year in the first 2 years and up to twenty 30-hectare sites each year in the next 4 years. So it is not a simple “will it grow and yield” trial. It is a multi-strain, multi-site trial to identify which strain grows best...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.