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Marcel Kuntz est biologiste, directeur de recherche au CNRS et enseignant à l’Université Grenoble-Alpes, ses seules sources de revenus. Ses analyses n'engagent pas ses employeurs.


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23 février 2018 5 23 /02 /février /2018 14:19
Transgenic plants and beyond

Volume 86 of Advances in Botanical Research (Elsevier)

I believe this Volume will be highly useful to researchers but also to students and teachers (many of its illustrations will come in handy for teachers), as well as science journalists and regulators, especially in countries wishing to develop or improve existing biosafety regulations. Most Chapters contain valuable internet links to regulatory articles, international agreements or GMO databases.

Marcel Kuntz (Volume Editor)


To buy the whole volume:


To buy a chapter:




Chapter 1
Plant Domestication, the Brave Old World of Genetic Modification
Piero Morandini, Department of Biology, University of Milan, Italy
Henry I. Miller, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, USA

The genetic improvement of crop plants via the newer techniques of biotechnology to produce “genetically modified” crops is a significant driver of progress in agriculture.  However, progress has not been unimpeded: Various controversies swirl around the benefits, uniqueness, supposed risks and other aspects of the pseudo-category of “GMOs,” or genetically modified organisms, and the foods derived from them.  In order to resolve the conundrums posed by those issues, it is important to understand the pedigree of genetic modification, which had its inception in the domestication of plants.  In this article, we briefly introduce the crucial determinants of the “domestication syndrome” for cereals and legumes -- that is, loss of seed shattering and reduced seed dormancy -- and how it evolved through the ages into contemporary “genetic modification.”  We argue that the application of this genetic engineering to crops within a few years brought a wave of improved domestication traits.  Moreover, contrary to most of the early domestication traits, some of these novel traits are advantageous to the crop and not just to humans.  The other articles in this volume discuss current developments in technology, the promise of modern molecular genetic engineering, and the legal and regulatory landscape. 

Chapter 2
How Agrobacterium, a natural genetic engineer, became a tool for modern agriculture 
Leon Otten, Institute of Plant Molecular Biology (IBMP), Strasbourg, France

Agrobacterium is well-known for its capacity to transfer specific fragments of DNA (transferred DNA or T-DNA) into plant cells, leading to the formation of tumours (crown galls) by A. tumefaciens and to abundant root growth (hairy roots) by A. rhizogenes. The T-DNA contains genes which change the growth of plant cells in various ways, and lead to the production of special metabolites (called opines) used by the bacterium for its growth. The discovery of this natural plant transformation system started about one hundred years ago, and the adaptation of A. tumefaciens as a vector to stably introduce foreign DNA into plants has led to a revolution in agriculture. The potential of A. rhizogenes is not yet fully exploited and much remains to be learnt about its root-inducing properties. Recent research has shown that apart from tumours and hairy roots, Agrobacterium can also produce transgenic plants in at least three different plant genera (Nicotiana, Linaria and Ipomoea), with stable transmission of T-DNA genes across species. In the case of Nicotiana tabacum, some cultivars were found to express the TB-mas2’ T-DNA gene to high levels in roots and to produce the corresponding opine. The possible growth-modifying role of T-DNA genes in natural transformants remains to be studied.        

Chapter 3
Legal, Regulatory and Labeling status of biotech crops
Mahaletchumy Arujanan, Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC), Malaysia
Paul P.S. Teng, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Biotech crops provide food, feed, fuel and fibre and increasingly contribute towards global food security, alleviation of poverty, addressing malnutrition, and mitigation of environmental impact caused by agricultural practices and production of pharmaceutical proteins. They are also climate resilient to tolerate harsher weather conditions.  As of 2016, 18 million farmers grow biotech crops on 185 million hectares of land in 26 countries. In spite of their enormous contribution to mankind, biotech crops continue to face regulatory scrutiny. These crops are heavily regulated around the world and in recent years, there have been calls from various parties to label food ingredients derived from biotech crops. A number of countries have national laws on labelling, while discussion is on-going on low level presence and adventitious presence of GMOs. There are also talks on harmonising regulations to ease trade and enforcement activities.  This chapter will discuss the global status of biotech crops, labelling regimes and the need for, challenges to and consequences of biotech crops. It is noteworthy that biotech crops have now accumulated a flawless record of human and environmental safety since their first release in 1996.

Chapter 4
Regulating Safety of novel food and genetically modified food crops
Andrew Bartholomaeus, Food and Chemical Toxicology, BartCrofts Pty Ltd, University Of Queensland School of Medicine, Australia

The principle of proportionality, embodying concepts of fairness, equity and consistency is fundamental to human rights, national and international law and its’ subordinate regulation. This principle, in theory, provides some limits on the potential unintended consequences that may result from disproportionate regulatory burdens distorting individual and corporate behaviour, the consequences of which may exceed the real or imagined harms the original regulations were intended to prevent.   Current regulatory burdens applied in a number of jurisdictions on recombinant DNA technology and the new biotechnologies however, as opposed to other less precise mechanisms of gene alteration in common use, are applied discriminately, are disproportionate to the known (lack of) plausible food safety risks, are ignorant of the broader knowledge of natural plant genome plasticity, and are consequently ethically highly questionable at best.  Although major corporations developing GM crops are arguably beneficiaries of the reduced competition resulting from disproportionate regulatory burdens and their associated costs, this comes at the substantial detriment both to the respective jurisdictions and to developing economies seeking to improve the welfare of disadvantaged communities through the use of advanced plant breeding technologies. Disproportionate regulation of GMOs is consequently risk generating rather than risk mitigating and is contrary to the intent of the precautionary principle. The key principles underlying rational, ethical, risk proportionate regulation of new plant varieties developed by any technique, conventional or otherwise, are discussed.


Chapter 5
Assessing the Environmental Safety of Transgenic Plants: Honey Bees as a Case Study
Agnès Ricroch and Serife Akkoyunlu, AgroParisTech, 75005 Paris and University of Paris-Sud, Collège d'Etudes Interdisciplinaires, 92330 Sceaux, France
Jacqueline Martin-Laffon and Marcel Kuntz, Université Grenoble Alpes (UGA), Laboratoire de Physiologie Cellulaire et Végétale, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives (CEA), Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), Grenoble, France

Bees play an important role in the pollination of a wide range of plants and are bound to encounter genetically modified (GM) crops during their foraging period, especially insect-resistant crops since these crops have been cultivated worldwide. Thus, it is important to assess potential impacts of these crops on the non-target organism honey bee (Apis mellifera L.), the most important pollinator species worldwide. In the present study, we gathered all scientific data related to the effects of insect-resistant GM crops (mostly sweet corn and cotton, and also oilseed rape, rice, soybean, and wheat) on honey bees. Assessments included feeding honey bees with purified toxins or transgenic pollen collected from GM crops producing protease inhibitors, Cry or VIP insect-resistant toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis, or RNAi, and also herbicide-tolerant crops. A total of 50 peer reviewed studies have been published between 1994 and 2016. We also compiled 14 studies provided to and examined by the US EPA between 1993 and 2002. Our analyses converge to the conclusion that the studied protease inhibitors, Cry proteins, RNAi or herbicide-tolerance proteins do not negatively affect the survival of honey bees and have no potential sub-lethal effect in controlled laboratory conditions or in field / semi field trials.


Chapter 6
Genetic Engineering of Crop Plants: Colombia as a Case Study
Alejandro Chaparro-Giraldo, Grupo de Ingeniería Genética de Plantas, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia
Adriana Castaño Hernández, Biologist. M.Sc. GMO Biosafety and AgroBiotech Consultant. Bogotá, Colombia
Silvio Alejandro López-Pasos, Facultad de Ciencias, Departamento de Biología, Universidad Antonio Nariño, Bogotá, Colombia
Julián Mora-Oberlaender, Grupo de Ingeniería Genética de Plantas, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia

Colombia was one of the leading countries in the formulation and negotiation of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and as a megadiverse country has taken the challenge of developing technical and institutional capacities to ensure that applications of biotechnological developments do not pose risks to human and animal health or the environment. Since 2000 there are GM crops approved for environmental release in Colombia. The first approved crop was blue carnation. To date, GM maize, cotton, flowers, and soybeans have been authorized for growing. The approval of foods derived from GM plants for human consumption is a process that has been going on since 2003 and to date there are 104 genetically modified events approved for this purpose. Those events are present in maize, soybean, cotton, canola, sugar beet, rice and wheat. For their use as animal feed there are 59 approved events from six different crop species, mainly maize, soybean and cotton. Colombia has various research institutions, working on genetic transformation of crop plants of economic importance for the country, but to date none of them have reached the market. The emergence of agbiogenerics, and and an approximation to their implementation by national research groups may reduce the time and cost associated and facilitate the eventual commercialization of a colombian biotechnological crop. This presents a challenge that involves all stages of GM crop development.

Chapter 7
Recombinant Therapeutic Molecules Produced in Plants
Qiang Chen , The Biodesign Institute and School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA
Research on the use of plants for production of protein-based therapeutics has increased tremendously since the initial experiments in the early 1990s. Plant-based expression systems offer several production advantages of low-cost, rapidity, scalability, and a significantly lower chance of contamination with prion or mammalian viruses. In addition, the capability of plants in producing homogeneous N-glycans allows the development of novel therapeutics with superior efficacy and safety to their mammalian cell-produced counterparts. Various plants species have been used to develop and produce vaccines, antibodies and pharmaceutical enzymes against a myriad of diseases by multiple expression technologies. While most of these plant-made therapeutics are in preclinical development, many have progressed into human clinical study phases and several have been approved by regulatory agencies. The current status and recent advancement of plant-based expression systems and key clinical products will be presented in this chapter. The remaining challenges and future directions for the field of plant-made therapeutics will be discussed. 

Chapter 8
Genome editing in agricultural biotechnology
Maxence Pfeiffer 1, Francis Quétier 2, Agnès Ricroch 1,3
1 AgroParisTech, 75005 Paris, France. 
2 University of Evry Val d'Essonne, 91025 Evry, France. 
3 University of Paris-Sud, Collège d'Etudes Interdisciplinaires, 92330 Sceaux, France

Genome editing with engineered nucleases represents a specific and efficient tool to generate useful novel phenotypes in crops with an economic interest by base additions, deletions, gene replacement or transgene insertion. These techniques generate phenotypic variation in plants that can be indistinguishable from those obtained through natural means or conventional mutagenesis. The rapid development of these new techniques of plant breeding leads to several issues concerning the regulatory status of plants edited by engineered nucleases. This article aims at providing some keys to answer these issues. The intellectual property and legislation of genetically modified organism (GMO) in several countries including European Union are discussed. A scientific analysis of these new techniques and of recently edited plants, the intellectual property and legislation context along with a presentation of various actors concerned are also included. In some countries, plants edited by engineered nucleases can be patentable. From a technical point of view, edited plants should only fit to the current EU legislation of GMO in the case of transgene insertion whilst the best regulatory issue might be a product-based approach.

Chapter 9
Epigenetics, Epigenomics and Crop Improvement
Eleni Tani, A. Kapazoglou and I. Ganopoulos, Agricultural University of Athens, Laboratory of Plant Breeding and Biometry, Athens, Attiki, Greece

Epigenetics refers to heritable alterations in chromatin architecture that do not involve changes in the underlying DNA sequence but profoundly affect gene expression and impact cellular function.  Epigenetic regulation is attained by specific mechanisms involving DNA methylation, histone post-translational modifications and the action of small RNAs which lead to open or closed chromatin states associated with gene activation or gene silencing, respectively.  Epigenetic regulation is crucial for plant growth and development and the response of plants to changing environmental conditions.  Over the past two decades extensive investigations have provided a wealth of information on epigenetic regulation at specific loci both in model and crop plants and the effect it may have on various aspects of plant development such as proper vegetative growth, successful reproduction and viability, effects on yield, and efficiency in coping with stress. In recent years, the rapid progress of high-throughput technologies has led to the unveiling of epigenetic landscapes at genome-wide scale (epi-genomes) exemplified by the deciphering of the full methylomes, at single base resolution, of the model plant Arabidopsis and crop plants such as rice, and tomato. An increasing number of epi-genomes are now being investigated from different plants, with emphasis on crops of high economic value. Trans-generational natural or induced epigenetic variation can be a new source of phenotypic diversity especially for species with low genetic variation. The comparison of different epigenomes arising from different cultivars/genotypes/tissues/cell types/environmental conditions, can offer valuable information for the development of biomarkers paving the way to what is nowadays termed plant epi-breeding. This review will attempt a comprehensive presentation of the progress in plant epigenetics both at small scale (single locus) and large scale (epigenome-wide) during development and in response to environmental stress, focusing on agronomically important crops and the impact that epigenetics, epigenomics and the new emerging field of epi-breeding may have on crop improvement.

Chapter 10
Biotechnologies: The Ideal Victim ?
Nayla Farouki

Biotechnologies, in general, and GM plants in particular, suffer from a sort of defiance that has gone beyond ordinary technophobia. Societies, in which all technological advancements are naturally embedded, react in various ways to what industries have to offer. Enthusiasm, slow appropriation, apprehension, rejection seem normal at the consumer’s level, and each person ought to have the free choice to consume or not to consume. With plant biotechnologies, this normal evolution of technological offers, and of the free scientific research that goes with it, is now perturbed by overregulation on the one hand and straight and total forbiddance on the other. 
These pages are an attempt at an explanation of this phenomenon’s specificity. What is it that makes biotechnologies different from other technologies on which there is no consensus, such as nuclear energy or robotics? What are humans scared of? And why? 
The answer could reside in the following: biotechnologies, where plants are concerned, that is where agriculture, food and the living environment are concerned, seem to have specific reasons for producing such negative feelings. Among all the “scary” inventions that some want to denounce, could it be that biotechnologies are the ideal victim?

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