Canadian researchers have demonstrated that, in principle, they can engineer genetically modified (GM) crops to be incapable of breeding with conventional crops or wild relatives. The new approach could help contain the unintended spread of artificial traits, which is a major source of public concern about GM crops.
Although several alternative strategies for such containment exist, "there is no perfect solution," says Johann P. Schernthaner of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Ottawa.
To engineer a crop that would theoretically require no intervention by farmers to keep it reproductively contained, Schernthaner and his colleagues inserted into some tobacco plants a genetic element called a seed-lethal trait. That element prevents the plants' seeds from germinating under any circumstances.
To enable the GM plants to reproduce amongst themselves, the researchers then inserted another artificial trait that represses the seed-lethal construct. GM plants with both t