New Corn Varieties Bred for Resistance to GMOs

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Although certified organic farms are prohibited from using Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), organic growers have no control over the varieties grown by neighboring farmers, who may choose a GMO corn variety (approximately 80% of commercial field corn seed sold in the U.S. each year).

According to Dennis West, a professor with the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Tennessee, a single GMO corn plant commonly produces more than two million pollen grains, which may be carried more than one-half mile by wind. This long distance cross-pollination can result in "adventitious presence" or GMO contamination of the grain of non-GMO varieties. The result is a loss of market value for the organic farmer.

In their three-year, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SSARE)-funded project, researchers at the university crossed white and yellow Tennessee corn lines with genetic stocks containing a cross pollinator inhibitor gene. They developed six corn hybrids that may potentially lessen the risk of GMO contamination.

Corn breeding has been studied at The University of Tennessee for 90 years, and many parent corn lines have been developed. In the SSARE project, “Breeding Organic Corn Varieties to Resist GMO Contamination,” Tennessee elite corn lines were crossed to corn lines obtained from the National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) with a cross-sterility allele, Ga1s, which prevents fertilization by pollen of corn varieties that do not carry the allele.

“All of the commercial field corn hybrids marketed in the U.S. carry the recessive form of the allele, which is inactive on the silks of Ga1s plants,” explains West. “We wanted to breed the dominant form of the gene into white and yellow-grained public hybrids with the idea that the grain produced on Ga1s hybrids will be the result of pollination by plants that have the Ga1s gene, and grain on Ga1s hybrids grown in the same field as non-Ga1s GMO hybrids will be free of the GMO contamination.”

Read more about the research here