Highlights on the road toward genetic modification in agriculture

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1972: Researchers at Stanford University and the University of California use enzymes to cut a piece of bacterial DNA and replace it with another strand. This forms the basis for rDNA, the blending of genetics from a variety of organisms.

1974: Rudolf Jaenisch and Beatrice Mintz at MIT use rDNA tools and introduce foreign DNA into mouse embryos.

An international moratorium on genetic engineering research mostly squelches research.

1975: The Asilomar Conference creates guidelines for genetic modification and leads to innovation in rDNA and ultimately innovation in agriculture and health sciences. It also establishes standards for public disclosure about genetic research.

1977: At Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, Mary Dell Chilton discovers that the genes in bacteria responsible for causing plant disease could be removed from bacteria without adversely affecting its ability to insert its DNA into plant cells and modify the plant’s genome.

Allan Maxam and Walter Gilbert at Harvard University developed a sequencing method for DNA. It was later replaced with chain termination tools, but it led the way to other discoveries.

Related stories in this issue:

1978: Synthetic insulin created from a transgenic, genetically modified bacteria is developed by Herbert Boyer.

1980: GMO patent is issued for the first time for a bacteria that breaks down oil after a spill in water.

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1982: The synthetic insulin Humulin is approved by the FDA and other health administrations.1983: Mary Dell Chilton and her colleagues create the first genetically modified plants using Agrobacterium-carrying, disarmed Ti plasmid. She is dubbed the “queen of Agrobacterium.”

1991: A tomato with a fish gene enables the plant to resist frost. Licensed by the USDA, it fails to reach the market due to poor public reception. Researchers create transgenic tomatoes with cereal genes to resist drought, while those with tobacco genes improve drought and soil salinity stress tolerance.

1995: DNA Plant Technology Corporation, using USDA licensed genetics, produces 
Endless Summer tomatoes, which contain a gene that suppresses nearly all ethylene emissions. These tomatoes can remain on the plant longer and remain fresh twice as long at the grocers. Licensing issues prevent commercial release.

The U.S. approves use of B.t. genetics in crops.

1994: The Flavr Savr tomato is licensed for human consumption in the U.S. It has an extra tomato gene that interferes with the production of an enzyme that degrades pectin in fruit, causing it to spoil. It failed to garner commercial success due to few consumer features and was withdrawn from the market in 1997.

1996: Herbicide resistance genetics are approved in U.S. and Canadian crops, paving the way for Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean.

1999: Papaya ringspot resistant fruit released in Hawaii and approved in the U.S. and Canada for consumption.

The first Enviropig, a lower phosphorus excreting pig, is born at the University of Guelph. The pigs produce the enzyme phytase in their salivary glands.

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2000: Golden rice, a vitamin A-rich cereal, is developed to improve human health, largely in Asia. In 2005, Syngenta produces an improved version with higher beta-carotene content. Greenpeace and others denounce it.

2010: BASF produces Amflora potatoes, which contain a starch that can be processed into a product used in paper making. It was approved for industrial applications by the European Commission, but in 2012 the potato is withdrawn from the EU market.

2013: Monsanto releases Drought Guard corn in the western Great Plains of the U.S. The corn reduces its moisture losses when faced with drought stress.

2014: A blue tomato crop is grown by New Energy Farms in Ontario for U.K. researchers. The purple-fleshed tomato contains high levels of anthocyanins, an antioxidant. Genes from two other plants were used to develop the tomato, likely for a North American market because EU licensing is challenging.

2016: CFIA approves the sale of the AquaAdvantage salmon in Canada. The GM fish contains genes from another fish that grows year round and matures twice as fast on two-thirds the feed.

2015: The AquaAdvantage salmon is the first genetically-modified animal approved for human consumption in the U.S. Release was blocked by Congress until the Food and Drug Administration create a GM labelling system. Environment Canada approves AquaAdvantage salmon egg production for commercial use.

Non-browning Arctic Apples are approved in Canada. Okanagan Specialty Fruits receives U.S. approval in 2016.

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