The New Green Revolution
For around 40 years there have been methods of genetic engineering to modify the genome of plants. New methods combine precision, specificity and low costs in a way that has never been achieved before. But the discussion about application security continues.
On May 14, 1990, the first release experiment with genetically modified plants in Germany began in Cologne. Under the leadership of the then Director of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Plant Breeding Research, Heinz Saedler, an additional gene was inserted into the genome of around 60,000 petunia plants. The genetic factor came from corn plants and contained the blueprints for an enzyme that turned the white flowers of petunias into salmon-pink.
At the time, it was hoped to find petunias in which the hereditary disposition for the salmon-red flower coloration had been destroyed by a jumping gene. Because this is a rare occurrence, it seemed necessary to genetically engineer tens of thousands of plants to end up with a few individuals that would bear petals mottled with white and salmon pink. The MPI researchers modified the genome of the petunia using the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens - a method that had been developed about ten years previously at the same institute.
Surprisingly, after the experiment was completed, around 60 percent of the buds showed white-red mottling. This completely unexpected finding had two very different consequences. On the one hand, he initiated a new discipline, plant epigenetics. As it turned out later, the large number of speckled flowers was the result of a dry and hot summer, which had led to altered gene activity via epigenetic mechanisms. On the other hand, critics saw the experiment as proof that genetic engineering is associated with supposedly unpredictable risks.
Since that time, plant genetic engineering has developed in very different directions in different countries. While skepticism prevailed in Germany and large parts of the EU and the cultivation of genetically modified plants was largely prohibited - with the exception of Spain - the area under cultivation for genetically modified plants (GM plants) on the two American subcontinents has now grown to around 180 million hectares …