A scientist from the University of Wisconsin has finally revealed a breakthrough that could guarantee the genetic integrity of an entire crop after studying teosinte, a weed cousin of maize. Jerry Kermicle has uncovered the knowledge that a genetic barrier to foreign genes, including those from GM varieties, can easily be bred into modern hybrid corn.
Corn usually traffics genes readily, and the fear of uncontrolled (and unstoppable) cross-fertilisation is beginning to threaten the future of US corn exports to important trading countries such as the EU and Japan that are particularly wary of DNA technology, especially in the light of the recent StarLink fiasco.
This new technology is therefore particularly useful for US farmers who want to recapture GM-sensitive markets in Europe and Asia. It is also useful in proving no threat to the non-target Monarch butterflies, under threat from the corn genetically engineered to produce its own insecticide.
The findings should also ease the pressure on the animal feed industry, which currently accounts for over 50% of the corn produced in the US. There is a growing interest in the certification of non-GM feed, and with millions of acres of US farmland planted with GM crops, contamination is a serious issue.
Commercial planting may be possible in 2003, after the genetic barrier is grown in hybrid corn by way of traditional breeding methods and tested throughout 2002. It will be licensed for domestic and international use, and is currently patented by WARF, a non-profit corporation connected to the University of Wisconsin.