Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology
RESEARCH ARTICLE

The pros and cons of GM crops

Jennifer A. Thomson
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Cape Town, South Africa. Email: jennifer.thomson@eject.co.za

Functional Plant Biology - https://doi.org/10.1071/FP17031
Submitted: 7 March 2017  Accepted: 5 September 2017   Published online: 2 October 2017

Abstract

The year 2015 marked the 20th year of the commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) crops. During the period from 1996 to 2014, the global hectarage of these crops increased 100-fold, making it the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times. The overall economic gains from these crops have been estimated to be USD133.4 billion over the period from 1996 to 2013, and have been divided roughly 50% each to farmers in developed and developing countries. The environmental benefits include contributing to the practice of minimal till agriculture and a decrease in the use of pesticides. But what are the downsides of this technology? In this review I look at some of the problems related to weeds becoming resistant to glyphosate (the main ingredient that is used on herbicide tolerant crops), how these can be overcome and whether glyphosate can cause cancer. I also discuss the problem of insects becoming resistant to the toxins that are used in insect resistant crops and how these are being addressed. I look at what scientists around the world are saying on this topic and then consider GM crops that are in the pipeline of benefit to developing countries and whether any of these are likely to be commercialised in the foreseeable future.

Additional keywords: banana, cassava, cowpea, eggplant, herbicide, insect, maize, virus.


References

AATF (African Agricultural Technology Foundation) (2015) AATF 2015 Proceedings of the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) Project Review and Planning Meeting, 9–12 February 2015. Radisson Hotel, Maputo, Mozambique. The African Agricultural Foundation, Nairobi, Kenya.

Brookes G, Barfoot P (2015a) Global income and production impacts of using GM crop technology 1996–2013. GM Crops and Food: Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain 6, 13–46.
Global income and production impacts of using GM crop technology 1996–2013.CrossRef |

Brookes G, Barfoot P (2015b) Environmental impacts of genetically modified (GM) crop use 1996–2103: impacts on pesticide use and carbon emissions. GM Crops and Food: Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain 6, 103–133.
Environmental impacts of genetically modified (GM) crop use 1996–2103: impacts on pesticide use and carbon emissions.CrossRef |

Castiglioni P, Warner D, Bensen RJ, Anstrom DC, Harrison J, Stoecker M, Abad M, Kumar G, Salvador S, D’Ordine R, Navarro S, Back S, Fernandes M, Targolli J, Dasgupta S, Bonin C, Luethy MH, Heard JE (2008) Bacterial RNA chaperones confer abiotic stress tolerance in plants and improved grain yield in maize under water-limited conditions. Plant Physiology 147, 446–455.
Bacterial RNA chaperones confer abiotic stress tolerance in plants and improved grain yield in maize under water-limited conditions.CrossRef | 1:CAS:528:DC%2BD1cXnsVyhsb4%3D&md5=6e545e585092860efc28ba39ce17c9dbCAS |

Erasmus A, Marais J, Van den Berg J (2016) Movement and survival of Busseola fusca (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) larvae within maize plantings with different rations of non-Bt and Bt seed. Pest Management Science 72, 2287–2294.
Movement and survival of Busseola fusca (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) larvae within maize plantings with different rations of non-Bt and Bt seed.CrossRef | 1:CAS:528:DC%2BC28XlvV2rs7w%3D&md5=4e9a0a7a470d49a46e5da4c24d793c49CAS |

Gonsalves D (2014) Hawaii’s transgenic papaya story 1978–2012: a personal account. In ‘Genetics and Genomics of Papaya’. (Eds R Ming, PH Moore) pp. 115–142. (Springer: New York)

Gould F (2000) Testing Bt refuge strategies in the field. Nature Biotechnology 18, 266–267.
Testing Bt refuge strategies in the field.CrossRef | 1:CAS:528:DC%2BD3cXhvV2ru7g%3D&md5=5c940efaef7ca0c9a18c0837fdbbb98dCAS |

Gouse M (2012) GM maize as subsistence crop: the South African smallholder. AgBioForum 15, 163–174.

Hautea DM, Taylo LD, Masanga APL, Sison MLJ, Narciso JO, Quilloy RB, Hautea RA, Shotkoski FA, Shelton AM (2016) Field performance of Bt eggplants (Solanum melongena L.) in the Philippines: Cry1Ac expression and control of the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (Leucinodes orbonalis Guenée). PLoS One 11, e0157498
Field performance of Bt eggplants (Solanum melongena L.) in the Philippines: Cry1Ac expression and control of the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (Leucinodes orbonalis Guenée).CrossRef |

Higgins TJV, Gollasch S, Molvig L, Moore A, Popelka C, Armstrong J, Mahon R, Ehlers J, Huesing J, Margam V, Shade R, Murdock L (2012) Insect-protected cowpeas using gene technology. In ‘Proceedings of the fifth world cowpea conference on improving livelihoods in the cowpea value chain through advancement in science’. (Eds O Boukar, O Coulibaly, C Fatokun, K Lopez, M Tamo) pp. 131–137. (IITA: Saly, Senegal)

James C (2015) Global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops: 2015. ISAAA Brief No. 51. ISAAA, Ithaca, New York.

Kotey DA, Obi A, Assefa Y, Erasmus A, Van den Berg J (2017) Monitoring resistance to Bt maize in field populations of Busseola fusca (Fuller) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) from smallholder farms in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. African Entomology 25,
Monitoring resistance to Bt maize in field populations of Busseola fusca (Fuller) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) from smallholder farms in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.CrossRef |

Kruger M, Van Rensburg JBJ, Van den Berg J (2009) Perspective on the development of stem borer resistance to Bt maize and refuge compliance at the Vaalharts irrigation scheme in South Africa. Crop Protection 28, 684–689.
Perspective on the development of stem borer resistance to Bt maize and refuge compliance at the Vaalharts irrigation scheme in South Africa.CrossRef |

Kruger M, Van Rensburg JBJ, Van den Berg J (2012) Transgenic Bt maize: farmers’ perceptions, refuge compliance and reports of stem borer resistance in South Africa. Journal of Applied Entomology 136, 38–50.
Transgenic Bt maize: farmers’ perceptions, refuge compliance and reports of stem borer resistance in South Africa.CrossRef |

McDougall P (2011) The cost and time involved in the discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology derived trait. CropLife International, Brussels, Belgium. Available at https://croplife.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Getting-a-Biotech-Crop-to-Market-Phillips-McDougall-Study.pdf [Verified 10 September 2017].

Mohammed B, Ishiyaka M, Abdullah U, Katung M (2014) Response of transgenic Bt cowpea lines and their hybrids under field conditions. Journal of Plant Breeding and Crop Science 6, 91–96.
Response of transgenic Bt cowpea lines and their hybrids under field conditions.CrossRef |

Obwok E, Odipio J, Halsey M, Gaitan-Solis E, Bua A, Taylor NJ, Fauquet CM, Alicai T (2012) Transgenic RNA interference (RNA-i)-derived field resistance to cassava brown streak disease. Molecular Plant Pathology
Transgenic RNA interference (RNA-i)-derived field resistance to cassava brown streak disease.CrossRef |

Porterfield A (2015) Why regulators conclude glyphosate safe while IARC, alone, claims it could cause cancer? Genetic Literacy Project 24 July 2015. Available at https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/07/24/why-do-regulators-conclude-glyphosate-safe-while-iarc-almost-alone-claims-it-could-cause-cancer/ [Verified 10 September 2017].

Romeis J, McLean MA, Shelton AM (2013) When bad science makes good headlines: Bt maize and regulatory bans. Nature Biotechnology 31, 386–387.
When bad science makes good headlines: Bt maize and regulatory bans.CrossRef | 1:CAS:528:DC%2BC3sXnt1Shtr0%3D&md5=56bc7db2c65dac2e0acfd5a74f57d8c9CAS |

Séralini G-E, Clair E, Mesnage R, Gress S, Defarge N, Malatesta M, Hennequin D, de Vendõmois JS (2012) Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and Chemical Toxicology 50, 4221–4231.
Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize.CrossRef |

Séralini G-E, Clair E, Mesnage R, Gress S, Defarge N, Malatesta M, Hennequin D, de Vendõmois JS (2014) RETRACTED: Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and Chemical Toxicology 63, 244

Shepherd DN, Mangwende T, Martin DP, Bezuidenhout M, Kloppers FJ, Carolissen CH, Monjane AL, Rybicki EP, Thomson JA (2007) Maize streak virus-resistant transgenic maize: a first for Africa. Plant Biotechnology Journal 5, 759–767.
Maize streak virus-resistant transgenic maize: a first for Africa.CrossRef | 1:CAS:528:DC%2BD2sXhtlWjsrfF&md5=937ebb1af49590ee268fac056436c086CAS |

Shepherd DN, Martin DP, Thomson JA (2009) Transgenic strategies for developing crops resistant to geminiviruses. Plant Science 176, 1–11.
Transgenic strategies for developing crops resistant to geminiviruses.CrossRef | 1:CAS:528:DC%2BD1cXhtlyktLzK&md5=c520913603986f0525a5889357b275baCAS |

Shepherd DN, Dugdale B, Martin DP, Varsani A, Lakay FM, Bezuidenhout ME, Monjane AL, Thomson JA, Dale J, Rybicki EP (2014) Inducible resistance to maize streak virus. PLoS One 9, e105932
Inducible resistance to maize streak virus.CrossRef |

Singh B (2003) Improving the production and utilization of cowpea as food and fodder. Field Crops Research 84, 169–177.
Improving the production and utilization of cowpea as food and fodder.CrossRef |

Sinha G (2007) GM technology develops in the developing world. Science 315, 182–183.
GM technology develops in the developing world.CrossRef | 1:CAS:528:DC%2BD2sXns12lsA%3D%3D&md5=e89f52b5be599710413f0520d0e2977cCAS |

Tabashnik BE, Brévault T, Carrière Y (2013) Insect resistance to Bt crops: lessons from the first billion acres. Nature Biotechnology 31, 510–521.
Insect resistance to Bt crops: lessons from the first billion acres.CrossRef | 1:CAS:528:DC%2BC3sXptV2gsLk%3D&md5=58560f7fdf92c1e7ecf53c88006f8812CAS |

Thomson J (2013) ‘Food for Africa: The life and work of a scientist in GM crops.’ (UCT Press: Cape Town, South Africa)

Tripathi L, Tripathi JN, Kiggundu A, Korie S, Shotkoski F, Tushemereirwe WK (2014) Field trial of Xanthomonas wilt disease-resistant bananas in East Africa. Nature Biotechnology 32, 868–870.
Field trial of Xanthomonas wilt disease-resistant bananas in East Africa.CrossRef | 1:CAS:528:DC%2BC2cXhsFOlurjO&md5=c889385e14e8892f15cd3c33d8929174CAS |

Zhang C, Hu R, Huang J, Huang X, Shi G, Li Y, Yin Y, Chen Z (2016) Health effect of agricultural pesticide use in China: implications for the development of GM crops. Scientific Reports 6, 34918
Health effect of agricultural pesticide use in China: implications for the development of GM crops.CrossRef | 1:CAS:528:DC%2BC28Xhs1OjtbjM&md5=ab0ae7cb563a907abb1e32422ffb23faCAS |

Zilberman D, Kaplan S, Wesseler J (2015) The loss from underutilizing GM technologies. AgBioForum 18, 312–319.



Export Citation