ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  26 October 2000


As we posted before, an ACRE committee seems to be supporting Terminator type ‘seed sterility’ technologies as a way of controlling gene flow.  Here are 2 items relating to the report which looks at a number of possible techniques including:

-  alternative markers to antibiotic resistance genes
-  removal of extraneous DNA
-  strategies for control of flowering and fertility
-  seed sterility
-  chloroplast transformation
-  gene excision systems to avoid unnecessary gene expression
-  introns and editing sequences
-  chemically inducible promoters

As you’ll see (second item) below, English Nature who were represented on the committee appear fairly happy with the content.

However, what is perhaps not being adequately highlighted is that the committee has followed a strict remit of only looking at what they see as the environmental implications of these technologies, ie they are studiously ignoring all other implications including the socio-economic implications that technologies involving seed sterility, for example, might have, not least in the South where farm saved seed is a critical element in survival.

Yet the committee’s recommendations will almost certainly be hyped in the South as support for Terminator from a regulatory body that may be seen as providing a model for regulatory development there.

It is also self-evident that many of these techniques considered in the report bring with them their own potential environmental and other risks.

One other point that’s worth noting is that although ACRE is supposed to have been cleansed of advisors with clear conflicts of interest , such as GM proponent Dr Phil Dale of the John Innes Centre, it appears that former ACRE members such as Dale are still serving on specialist committees such as this one.

The URL for the entire ACRE document is at:

For document and consultation details:

Comments on the guidance should be sent before 21 December 2000 to:
The Secretary, ACRE Best Practice Sub-group, Floor 3/H11, Ashdown House, London, SW1E 6DE.

Guidelines for safer GM crops proposed  - ENDS Daily ­ 25 October 2000

A compendium of techniques that the biotechnology industry could use to minimise potential environmental risks of genetically modified (GM) crops has been produced by a UK committee.  A committee member told ENDS Daily that the document marked the first attempt by a European government to take a comprehensive approach to designing safer GM plants.

Produced by the advisory committee on releases to the environment, the guidance on best practice in the design of GM crops lists a wide range of techniques that it says firms can use or will be able to in future to reduce gene transfer, avoid pollen toxicity, prevent unintended survival of GM plants and prevent adverse effects on non-target organisms.

The document suggests a series of techniques to ensure that new traits in plants are "biologically contained" so as to minimise gene transfer and dispersal in the environment, including exploitation of flowering-time difference and production of GM crops that cannot produce pollen.

Several techniques under development for controlling flowering and fertility are discussed, all aimed at minimising gene transfer.  These include production of seeds without fertilisation and crops whose flowers fail to open.  Sterile seeds - also known as terminator technology is also suggested as a route to biological containment.

The document recommends that biotechnology firms should minimise "extraneous" DNA so as to reduce risks of unexpected effects both by avoiding its insertion in the first place and by eliminating any introduced.

Unnecessary transgene expression should be minimised, it says, while alternative "markers" to antibiotic resistance genes should be used, such as reporter genes, cytotoxic resistance genes and genes that confer an ability to use particular compounds.  Some of these could bring their own risk assessment issues, it notes.

Follow-up:  UK environment ministry
(, tel: +44 20 79 44 30 00, the
report (

English Nature press release EN/00/42  :
Wildlife advisers call for fresh look at how GM crops are made ­ 24 October 2000

Draft guidance on how genetically modified (GM) crops should be designed has been published on the world-wide web today and welcomed by the English Nature as "a big step forward in the debate on biotechnology". The consultative report has been prepared by a sub-group of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE). Researchers from the cutting edge of plant genetics have contributed to recommendations in the report.

English Nature, which also represents the Scottish and Welsh nature conservation agencies on GMO issues, has been working as part of the group of scientific experts to develop the guidelines. They are intended to indicate to the biotech industry and academic researchers what the regulatory system might like to see in future to protect wildlife. Dr Brian Johnson, English Nature’s biotechnology advisor said today, "English Nature is concerned about possible effects of GM crops on biodiversity. So far as we know, this is the first time that advisors in any country involved in the regulation of GM crops have looked at how GMOs could be made even safer by changing the way the crops are made.  For example, the movement of modified genes from one plant to another could be virtually eliminated. We believe that if the GM industry adopts some of the recommendations in this report it could reduce risks to wildlife".

Notes for editors
1. ACRE is an independent committee that advises government on the environmental risks of releasing GMOs.  Minutes of the ‘best practice’ subgroup meetings and the report are available at:

2.   The ‘best practice’ sub-group of ACRE consists of:

Professor Phil Mullineaux
Professor Mark Bailey - Chairman Centre for Ecology and Hydrology -Oxford
Dr Adrian Butt - Secretary DETR
Dr Penny Hirsch - Institute of Arable Crops Research - Rothamsted
Dr Brian Johnson - English Nature
Dr Phil Dale - John Innes Centre, Norwich

3. The sub-group report is intended to stimulate debate about how GM crops might be better constructed in the future.  It identifies techniques for eliminating the use of genetic markers, especially those that rely on antibiotic resistance.  Methods for ensuring genetic isolation on crops are also highlighted, suggesting ways in which potential gene flow from GM crops could be virtually eliminated.  The ‘best practice’ group invites responses to the report.  Results of the consultation will be published on the ACRE web-site early next year.
4. English Nature has serious concerns about possible effects on wildlife of commercial release of some GM crops. These are set out in our Position Statement on GMOs available on the English Nature website:

For more information please contact -
Professor Mark Bailey   01865 281630
Prof Phil Mullineaux   01603 450286
Dr Brian Johnson   01733 455190
English Nature Press Office,  01733 455190, fax 01733 455188

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