Sunday, December 26, 2010

What is terminator seed technology?

How the Terminator Technology works
The Terminator Technology is the main application of a broadly framed patent for the "control of plant gene expression". The Terminator is basically a genetically engineered suicide mechanism that can be triggered off by a specific outside stimulus. As a result the seeds of the next generation will self-destruct by self-poisoning. The preferred trigger is the antibiotic tetracycline applied to seeds. The main version of the Terminator consists of a set of three novel genes inserted into one plant [see Box 1]; another version divides two or three genes on to two plants, which are later to be cross-pollinated. The end-result is always a dead seed in the following generation.
Terminator Technology is the Trojan Horse for the spread of genetically-engineered crops in the South. In the absence of "effective" patent regimes, companies can still market their wares and enforce constant returns for their investments. In the absence of adequate biosafety legislation, countries might be persuaded to accept the Terminator on the assumption that the technology is safe and that transgenic traits can not survive to a second generation, even by cross-pollination. This assumption is ill-founded. As with all genetic engineering, its direct effect and its side-effects are unpredictable and carry all the risks inherent in this technology. The gene-cocktail of the Terminator increases the risks that new toxins and allergens will show up in our food and animal fodder.
Most alarming though is the possibility that the Terminator genes themselves could infect the agricultural gene pool of the neighbour's crops and of wild and weedy relatives, placing a time-bomb. Temporary "gene silencing" of the poison gene or failed activation of the Terminator countdown enables such infection [see Box 2].
Between 15 and 20 per cent of the world's food supply is grown by poor farmers who save their seed. These farmers feed at least 1.4 billion people. The Terminator "protects" companies by risking the lives of these people. Since Terminator Technology has absolutely zero agronomic benefit, there is no reason to jeopardize the food security of the poor by gambling with genetic engineering in the field. Whether the Terminator works immediately or later, in either instance it is biological warfare on farmers and food security.
The Terminator also portends a hidden dark side. As a Trojan Horse for other transgenic traits, the technology might also be used to switch any trait off or on. At least in theory, the technology points to the possibility that crop diseases could be triggered by seed exports that would not have to "kick in" immediately ˜ or not until activated by specific chemicals or conditions. This form of biological warfare on people's food and economies is becoming a hot topic in military and security circles.(6)


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