TSL receives DEFRA approval for potato field trials

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DEFRA have approved The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich’s application to conduct field trials of GM potato crops on a designated trial site at the Norwich Research Park between 2016 and 2019.

The field trials are part of the TSL’s Potato Partnership Project to develop a Maris Piper potato that is blight and nematode resistant, bruises less and produces less acrylamide when cooked at high temperatures. The project is majority funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) with additional funding from industry partners BioPotatoes (UK) and Simplot (US).

Welcoming the decision Professor Jonathan Jones said:

“I am delighted that we have approval for the field trials necessary to test our potato plants in standard field conditions. We will spend the rest of this year making sure we can get the desired traits into Maris Piper plants and plan to conduct field trials from next year onwards.”

For further information about the project go to: http://www.tsl.ac.uk/news/new-potato-at-the-sainsbury-laboratory/

Questions and Answers

Now you have approval for the trials when will they begin?

We are focusing on developing plants which contain the desired traits. This involves constant testing and improvement of the techniques we use. We have to build in time to generate plants that are suitable to perform field trials. We are on track with the project so far and DEFRA’s approval will enable us to stay on track in the coming months and years. We hope to have enough suitable plants to start testing them in the field in 2017.

What genes are being tested in the field trial and what do you want to find out?

The goal of this trial is to test individual late blight resistance genes. We hope to determine whether these genes provide resistance without a reliance on agricultural inputs, in an open air trial. As a control for our experiments, plants carrying the resistance gene Rpi-vnt1 that have already been tested in the field will also be included in the trial.

Where will the field trial be held?

The field trial will take place on a relatively small area of land (no larger than 1000 square metres), located at the John Innes Centre, Norwich.

How long will the trial go on for?

Approval has been granted for field trials to take place between 2016 and 2019. Trials will be performed between May and November.

Why do you have to apply for approval from DEFRA?

Approval is a legal requirement. DEFRA has created the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) to ensure each trial is safe and will not cause environmental damage. ACRE analyses the data provided and assess possible risks of the trial. It gives consent if it considers the trial is safe. The committee also give advice and recommendations on how things should be done if the consent is granted. Finally it checks that we comply with their requirements in every step of the process, before, during and after the trial.

Is the field trial and the research undertaken publicly funded?

Yes. The trial is testing work from a long-standing publicly funded Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) programme of scientific research to study new potato late blight resistance genes.

What steps have you taken to contain the GM plants and prevent them from mixing with conventional crops in the area?

An isolation distance of 20 m to other potato varieties will be observed.

A 3-metre high fence will decrease the chance that larger animals will be in contact with the plants.

The field trial site will be visited regularly by trained laboratory staff to monitor the trial and to prevent any adverse environmental effects or adverse effects to human health. Emergency plans are in place should the need arise to terminate the trial at any point.

What do you do with the plants after you have noted the results of your trial?

At the end of each season, all harvested material (plant tops and tubers) will be placed in sealed bags or containers and removed from site to an authorised waste disposal facility. After each season during the 3-year trial period and following the end of the trial, the plot will be left fallow and monitored for volunteer plants and groundkeepers. Any plants identified will be immediately destroyed.