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EC-sponsored Research on Safety of Genetically Modified Organisms - A Review of Results
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image Agronomic, environmental and genetic assessment of transgenic crop plants

Background and objectives

Genetically modified plants have been well characterised on a limited, experimental scale but further information is required before they can be incorporated into large-scale, commercial plant breeding programmes. It is necessary to establish the stability of the modifications in different environments over many generations, and to develop effective monitoring methods.

Approach and methodology

To obtain information on the safety of genetically modified plants, we compared modified and non-modified plants in a range of agricultural environments. A series of field trials was designed to determine whether the modified plants differed from the non-modified plants in any aspect other than the specific character conferred by the introduced genes. Most of the modified plants contained marker genes, intended for experimental use, that were not expected to improve plant performance.

Main findings and outcome

We produced lines of genetically modified plants in which the introduced characters were stable and inherited as expected. Small differences between the plant lines used in this study were detected. We aim to determine the basis for these differences and whether this result is generally applicable.

The spread of pollen from modified plants was monitored by screening seeds from non-modified plants, grown nearby, for kanamycin resistance (that is one of the introduced characters). This method enabled 100,000 seeds to be screened per trial.


Practical experience gained in this study led to the development of methods to perform and to monitor small-scale field trials using genetically modified plants. We demonstrated that genetically modified plant lines are stable in field conditions.

Major publications

Paul E.M., Lewis G.B. and Dunwell J.M., "The pollination of genetically modified plants".
Acta Horticult., 288, 1991, pp. 425-429.

Paul E.M., Capiau K., Jacob M. and Dunwell J.M., "A study of gene dispersal via pollen in Nicotiana tabacum using introduced genetic markers".
J. Appl. Ecol., 32, 1995, pp. 875-882.

Paul E.M. and Dunwell J.M., "Implications of field observations for the development of biosafety protocols for small-scale trials of genetically modified plants", in 1st Int. Symp. on The Biosafety Results of Field Tests of Genetically Modified Plants and Microorganisms.
Agric. Res. Inst.,
Bethseda., 1990, pp. 137-146.

Dunwell J.M. and Paul E.M., "Impact of genetically modified crops in agriculture".
Outlook on Agriculture, 19, 1990, pp. 103-109.

Caligari P.D.S., Yapabandara Y.M.H.B., Paul E.M., Perret J., Roger P. and Dunwell J.M., "Field performance of derived generations of transgenic tobacco".
Theor. App. Genet., 86, 1993, pp. 875-879.

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Contract number

February 1989 – December 1990

J. Dunwell
University of Reading (UK)



M. Jacobs
Vrije Universiteit Brussel (BE)

J. Perret
Aubière (FR)

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