Subcommittee F: Section 2
The terminator gene is a specific genetic sequence inserted into a seed's DNA. Once activated by a synthetic chemical catalyst of the manufacturer's choosing, the sequence renders the seed and crop it produces sterile. Patented by the USDA and Delta and Pine Land Co., now owned by Monsanto, this terminator technology has no agricultural or economic benefits for farmers or consumers. The only motivation is to protect intellectual property rights, according to owners of the technology. They claim that it allows them to be able to recover investments on research, and produce profits from their technology, as planters must re-purchase seeds every year. Opponents claim that corporations will only use this to squeeze more money out of dependent farmers, and begin a monopoly of chemically saturated suicide seeds.
Possibility of Transfer.
Transgenic plants have already been shown to transfer certain genes to wild relatives or bacteria. The possibility that the terminator gene could be transferred is not denied by anyone. In fact, the tendency of genetically manipulated plants to "leak" traits is greater than others. "They learned that the transgenic plants were 20 times more likely to outcross than the mutants-they were "promiscuous," as a headline in the journal Nature put it. "Nobody knows why," Bergelson says. "We're still trying to find the mechanism that drives the pattern we saw. There's a lot we don't understand, including how common it is." "It's inevitable that they will get out," says ecologist Joy Bergelson of the University of Chicago. "That doesn't necessarily mean that there will be negative repercussions. But there could be some. And right now we don't know enough about what they could be and when they could occur."' There is some speculation on the subject, however, despite the limited empirical evidence. Even if the terminator gene were to spread to wild weedy relatives, then it could help control the spread of genetic hybrids and accompanying artificial traits. "Moreover, if Terminator genes were packaged with other transgenic traits, they could help ensure that crop-weed hybrids would be sterile-potentially eliminating a difficult problem." In fact, some believe that an added attraction to use of the terminator gene is the possibility that it will prevent more genetic transfer from occurring.
In fact, common sense recommends that the terminator gene would not spread far, because gene transfer through hybridization relies on fertile gametes of each species, the production of which is suppressed by this gene.
"Biotech Goes Wild," Charles C. Mann, Technology Review, July/august 1999, p36-43
Genetically Modified Plants For Food Use," The Royal Society, September 3, 1998
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