GM crops that produce industrial products could be grown in Britain for first time

Crops which have been genetically modified so they produce industrial products could be grown in Britain for the first time after scientists applied for permission to the government to start field trials.

Rothamsted Research, which is based in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, wants to plant GM camelina with altered DNA so that it produces ‘wax esters’, a natural lubricant which can be used instead of petrochemicals to keep machinery running smoothly.

Until now the company has only planted GM crops which could be used for human consumption, such as camelina with extra Omega-3 fish oil to boost health, or wheat altered to produce higher yields.

But the company said it now planned to use camelina as a ‘chassis’ to make useful lipids, or fatty acids, which can provide alternatives for chemicals in a range of industrial applications.

However campaigners said the outdoor trials in Hertfordshire and Suffolk, represented an ‘unacceptable risk’ to ‘people, wildlife and the wider environment.’

Twenty-six organisations including farmers, scientists, retailers and environmentalists have lodged a formal objection to Defra, asking them to refuse permission for trial, warning that pollen or seeds could escape and lead to other plants growing wax esters, which are harmful to humans.

Liz O’Neill, director of umbrella group GM Freeze: “Rothamsted Research started off trying to persuade us that GM camelina would save the oceans but now they’re referring to it as a ‘chassis’ on which they will produce an array of industrial compounds.

“GM Freeze wants to help create a world in which everyone’s food is produced responsibly, fairly and sustainably. This trial would be a step in the opposite direction and should not go ahead.”

Rothamsted, which has been genetically altering plants for 15 years, submitted its application in February and objections can be lodged until April 8, with a final decision expected from Defra by the end of May.

The company said it hoped to begin planting this year, and complete their trial by 2020.

Professor Jonathan Napier who is leading the trial said: “We have synthesised the gene sequences involved in the production of omega-3s and other useful compounds, such as astaxanthin and wax esters, and optimised them to be functional in camelina plants.

“These synthetic sequences are based on the sequence of genes found in a range of different organisms, including photosynthetic marine organisms and other lower eukaryote species, such as mosses and oomycetes.

“By using transgenic camelina as a chassis to make these useful lipids, we have an alternative source for them.”

As well as the wax esters and Omega-3 alterations the plants will also be genetically altered to increase the thickness of their stems and improve photosynthesis, to boost crop yields.

Rothamsted said if the trials go ahead they would be closely monitored by Defra and its independent advisory committee and the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE).

There will also be regular inspections, carried out by the Genetic Modification Inspectorate, which is part of the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency.

But campaigners said there was a significant amount of information that is missing from the company’s application to Defra, including technical details of the genetic modifications themselves and any assessment of the potential impact on farms already growing non-GM camelina in the UK.

Rothamsted has also provided no details of what the wax ester lubricant could specifically be used for.

 -Written by Sarah Knapton in The Telegraph. See original article link here.