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EC-sponsored Research on Safety of Genetically Modified Organisms - A Review of Results
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image New methodologies for assessing the potential of unintended effects in genetically modified food crops

Background and objectives

The market release of genetically modified (GM) food crops in Europe has given rise to widespread public concern, a great deal of which is based on uncertainties related to safety for humans, animals and the environment. One of the key issues in the risk assessment of GM crop plants is whether unexpected hazardous metabolic perturbations (so-called unintended effects) may have taken place in the organism due to genetic modification, that could affect its food or nutritional status. It is recognised that no adequate and effective animal models to identify and trace the sources of potential unintended effects are currently available. The objective of this project is to develop new methodologies that are of sufficient sensitivity and specificity to assess risks from this possible food-borne hazard. Implicit in this objective is the need to develop new knowledge which will serve as a basis to understand the implications of the genetic modification process on metabolic pathways in plants. Particular emphasis will be placed on the exploitation of combinative and innovative 'cell factory' technologies (genomics, proteomics and metabolomics).

  Greenhouse potatoes. image Greenhouse potatoes.
  Potato plants. image Potato plants.
  Potato field trial. image Potato field trial.

Starch. Starch.

GM plants used in the programme include transgenic tomatoes with elevated carotenoid content (which have the potential to fight some human deteriorative diseases) and transgenic potatoes with modified starch, polyamine, glycoalkaloid and amino acids content. The search for significant compositional differences between parent and GM-derived crops is central to the project. Other GM-lines like Arabidopsis and Nicotiana will be produced for academic purposes to determine what genes are involved in the process of flavonoid and lysine metabolism, growth and development.

Approach and methodology

An integrated novel approach for the ascertainment of whether the GM food crop with added value is comparable (substantial equivalent) to existing foods will be used. A methodology to eliminate potential hazardous metabolic perturbations in whole GM plants at the earliest step(s) in the food chain will be developed. Informative profiles will be obtained including databases of molecules of different biological integration levels, e.g. mRNAs (DNA micro-arrays), proteins (including post-translational modifications), primary and secondary plant products/metabolites in a representative number of non-modified, mutated and GM plants (i.e. Arabidopsis, Nicotiana, potato and tomato) that might be useful benchmarks for the detection of unintended effects. The potential of unintended effects in GM crops will be ranked and compared with changes caused by other conditions that influence the outcome (e.g. environmental factors, location effects, growth conditions, seasons etc.). A basis for risk assessment at the molecular level will be developed, which may refine and complement, and eventually reduce, animal experimentation.

Expected outcome

The project is highly pertinent to EU legislation on Novel Foods and GM food crops in particular. It is especially relevant to underpin Community policies. The new methodology will also be of use for the agro-food industry as it contributes to a more informed awareness of the 'real risks' related to GM foods by providing an objective scientific data package directed towards a holistic view of the genetic modification process. The project will also contribute to efforts being made to improve existing food safety and quality assessments, and may boost and rebuild the Union's citizens' confidence and trust in the supply of wholesome safe, nutritious and healthy GM food crops, balanced ecosystems, and a safe environment.

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Contract number

February 2000 - January 2003

H.P.J.M. Noteborn
State Institute for Quality Control of Agricultural Products (RIKILT)
Wageningen (NL)



H. Davies
The Scottish Crop Research Institute
Dundee (UK)

J. Pedersen
Institute of Food Safety and Toxicology
Søborg (DK)

M. Jacobs,
G. Angenon

Vrije Universiteit Brussel (BE)

J. Celis
University of Aarhus (DK)

P. Bramley
University of London (UK)

F. Altmann
Universität für Bodenkultur (BOKU)
Vienna (AT)

I. Colquhoun
Institute of Food Research
Norwich (UK)

J-J. Leguay
CEA Cadarache
Paris (FR)

S. Kärenlampi
University of Kuopio (FI)

J.M. Wal
Laboratoire Associé INRA-CEA d'Immuno-Allergie Alimentaire
Gif-sur-Yvette (FR)

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