Crop Tech Corner

USDA to Consider Release of GM Moths, GM Virus

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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USDA's initial environmental assessment determined that a Cornell University experiment with diamondback moths engineered to have high female mortality would be safe for the environment. (DTN photo by Nick Scalise)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- This bi-monthly column condenses the latest news in the field of crop technology, research and products.

USDA EVALUATES RELEASE OF GM MOTHS AND VIRUS

In the past two weeks, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has released documents on proposals to release two genetically modified (GM) organisms: diamondback moths and a virus designed to control the citrus greening disease attacking the citrus industry.

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Diamondback moths are a global pest of cruciferous crops such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cabbage. On April 18, USDA released a draft environmental assessment of a proposed experiment by a Cornell entomologist with GM diamondback moths. The scientist, Anthony Shelton, plans to release tens of thousands of GM moths into a 10-acre vegetable field to test their potential as an "insecticide-free" control option for diamondback moths. The GM moths have been engineered to repress female survival, known as a "female autocidal trait." They also express a protein that makes them glow red, to help researchers distinguish them from wild diamondback moths. After the experiment, researchers would kill the moths with insecticide. Any escapees would eventually perish in the cold New York winters. Here is the USDA's environmental assessment of this experiment, which concludes that it would have no harmful effects: https://goo.gl/….

Citrus greening has devastated the citrus industry around the world, as well as in the U.S. Once infected, citrus trees stop producing any edible fruit. The disease is caused by a bacteria and has no known cure. Attempts to develop GM citrus trees that are resistant to it has been met with public outcry. Now a Florida nursery, Southern Gardens Citrus Nursery, is proposing the release of a GM virus, Citrus tristeza virus, which has been engineered to express bacteria-fighting proteins found in spinach. The GM virus, which has been undergoing controlled field tests since 2010, would be grafted -- not sprayed -- onto citrus trees in Florida. USDA has announced its intent to launch an environmental impact statement on Southern Garden's proposal. You can see it here: https://goo.gl/….

EUROPE TACKLES MYCOTOXINS

Mycotoxins are a problem for grain farmers around the world. Now researchers from a Dutch university are working with a large team of scientists, engineers and IT specialists from government, academia and industry in 10 different European countries and China to tackle the problem of controlling mycotoxin contamination. The university, Wageningen University & Research, is developing an "e-toolbox," which pulls together techniques from every step of the farm-to-table process, from seed selection to post-harvest monitoring systems and new baking techniques that lower mycotoxin infection. The toolkit aims to empower all levels of the grain industry, from farmers to bakers and legislators, to monitor and reduce the incidence of mycotoxin in crop production and food supply chains. The goal is to reduce crop losses from mycotoxin contamination by at least 20% and up to 90%. See the e-toolbox here: https://www.mytoolbox.eu/….

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at emily.unglesbee@dtn.com.

Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee.

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Emily Unglesbee