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Plant Science Panel

Insecticides, biofuels, GMOs …

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'The Ugly Truth'

by Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science

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Genes and testing of GM crops

Huw Jones





Professor Huw Jones answered your questions on genes and testing of GM crops on Wednesday 25th July 2012. Find out more about Huw here.

If you have a question on a plant science related issue then get in contact with our Plant Science Expert Panel via Twitter, @senseaboutsci using #plantsci, or email us at [email protected].


1. Does GM allow interplay of genes from naturally incompatible species?

HJ: The gene is a DNA code that carries the information to make a protein. In theory, GM is not limited by what organism the gene comes from or in fact whether it is ‘natural’ or ‘synthetic’. However, in practice it is the protein encoded by the gene that must be compatible with the host organism and have the intended function.

2. Can we predict the long-term interplay between GM and wild genes?

HJ: Genes are the ‘messenger’ and there is no such distinction between GM and wild genes when a GM gene is introduced to a plant. It is the interplay between proteins that is much more interesting and important. The interplay between the newly expressed protein and the existing metabolism is usually the intention of the genetic modification. Once a genetic change is made, it is stable and heritable.

3. Could crops become unrecognisable after being modified multiple times?

HJ: None of the currently commercialised GM plants have an altered appearance. There are GM maize varieties that have eight transgenes that look exactly the same as all other commercial maize because all the genes encode a biochemical change. However, if a gene were introduced into a crop encoding, eg. tallness, increased branching or a colour change, even one gene could make a significant change to how a plant looked.

4. Will each newly designed GM species be tested individually?

HJ: Yes. The current regulatory systems insist that every new ‘GM event’ be rigorously risk assessed. Even when it contains exactly the same gene as an already risk-assessed crop.



Our Q&As answer the questions people put, which may mean that some parts of a subject are covered well and others not. If there is an issue that you think is not tackled, you are welcome to send a follow up question to our plant science panel