Are Genetically Modified Plants Useful and Safe?

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Critical Review Are Genetically Modified Plants Useful and Safe? Jacques-Henry Weil Institut de Biologie Moleculaire des Plantes, Strasbourg, France Summary So far, plants have been genetically modified essentially to achieve resistance to herbicides, or to pathogens (mainly insects, or viruses), but resistance to abiotic stresses (such as cold, heat, drought, or salt) is also being studied. Genetically modified (GM) plants with improved nutritional qualities have more recently been developed, such as plants containing higher proportions of unsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) in their oil (to prevent cardio-vascular diseases), or containing b-carotene as in the golden rice (to prevent vitamin A deficiency). Possible risks for human health (such as the production of allergenic proteins), or for the environment (such as the appearance of superweeds as a result from gene flow), should be carefully studied, and a science-based assessment of benefits vs. risks should be made on a csae by case basis, both for GM plants and for plants obtained by conventional breeding methods. IUBMB Life, 57: 311 – 314, 2005 Keywords GM plants; herbicide resistance; pathogen resistance; abiotic stress; Bt; golden rice; bcarotene; molecular farming; antibiotic resistance; allergenic proteins; gene flow Applications of genetic engineering to medicine, which have allowed the production of a number of proteins of therapeutic importance (such as insulin, growth hormone, plasminogen activator, antihaemophilic factors, etc.) in large amounts and without contamination by viruses or prions, have generally been well accepted. This is not always the case, at least in some countries, for the applications of genetic engineering to agronomy. Genetically modified plants (GM plants) or

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