The ‘second generation’ of GM crop research is focussed largely on increased nutritional traits that will have more direct benefits to consumers.
This will be particularly important in developing countries, where much of the population suffers health problems associated with poor nutrition. Specific food crops being researched include:
- rice enriched with iron, vitamins A and E, and lysine
- potatoes with higher starch content, and insulin
- maize, banana and potatoes containing edible vaccines
- maize varieties with low phytic acid and increased essential amino acids
- soybean and canola with healthier oils
- allergen-free nuts.
Creating or improving these ‘functional foods’ will also provide health benefits over and above basic nutrition. They are being developed to not only boost the level of nutrients, but also to increase the body’s resistance to illness and/or remove undesirable food components. Some of the work underway includes boosting levels of:
- phytosterols, which can lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases and levels of ‘bad cholesterol’
- carotenoids, which are the yellow, orange and red pigments found in plants — they can be converted by the body into Vitamin A, which is essential for normal growth and development, immune system function and vision
- antioxidants, which can protect the body by neutralising the activity of free radicals (which cause damage to DNA and can eventually lead to degenerative diseases such as cancer)
- essential fatty acids, or ‘good fats’– scientific studies suggest they help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Research is also continuing on new and improved crops with agronomic traits, including:
- corn with better nitrogen use efficiency, increased ethanol, higher yields, drought and herbicide tolerance, and resistance to insects and fungus
- soybeans with increased oil and feed efficiency, higher yields, herbicide tolerance and resistance to insects, fungus, disease and nematodes
- cotton with drought and herbicide tolerance, and insect resistance
- rice with higher yields, herbicide tolerance and insect resistance
- canola with herbicide tolerance
The transparent nature of Australia’s gene technology regulatory system means you can view a list of the current licences granted for field trials of new GM crops, and you can also see a map of the location of the trials.
For a global perspective of the exciting new developments in the plant biotechnology pipeline, CropLife Australia maintains an annual list on its website.