Research by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. to genetically modify peas to resist insect attack and reduce the use of chemical sprays has been discontinued after it was found that the peas caused an allergic reaction in mice.

The deputy chief of CSIRO Plant Industry, Dr TJ Higgins, said the findings demonstrate the effectiveness of case-by-case evaluation of GM plants and the important role science can play in decision-making around the introduction of GM crops.

The GM field peas were developed by CSIRO Plant Industry to protect Australia’s A$100m (US$73.7m)field pea industry from the pea weevil Bruchus pisorum, which can cause yield losses of up to 30% each year if left uncontrolled.

Although this GM breed of field pea proved almost 100% effective against pea weevil attacks, research led by immunologists Dr Simon Hogan and Professor Paul Foster at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, with CSIRO, showed that the GM peas caused an immune response in mice.

Following discussions with the scientists conducting the study, CSIRO decided not to progress development of these GM field peas.

“This work strongly supports the need for case-by-case examination of plants developed using genetic modification and the importance of decision-making based on good science,” Dr Higgins said.

“Even though this GM field pea research will not be progressed further, the technology is very valuable and we’re considering applying it to other research,” he said.

The CSIRO research team used a gene from beans to block the activity of alpha-amylase, an enzyme important for digestion of starch.

Weevil larvae feeding on starch in the developing pea seed are unable to digest the starch and starve.

“This case-by-case approach allows appropriate decisions to be made during the development of the GMO, and CSIRO has done this with its GM field peas.”