Ontario Agri-Food Technologies – FAQs

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Since there is no control over
where the transgene is inserted into the plant genome, could this cause
unknown effects?

This is true at the moment, although targeting of genes is becoming
more feasible and could change this in the future. Insertion of a gene so
that it interrupts another gene could have an unforeseen effect. However,
these gene insertions often produce distinct plants that can be rejected
by using extensive screening before commercial release.

However, plants can be affected by manipulations used not only in
biotechnology but also in other manipulations such as modern breeding.
Plant tissue culture is essential for biotechnology but is also used in
breeding programs. This technique alone can produce what is called
somoclonal variation and can lead to strange plants. The backcrossing of
plants to wild relatives and the use of mutagens can also lead to unknown

These unknown effects are most important in plants that are known to
produce various components such as toxins. For example, the potato plant
produces toxins (solanines) in the green parts of the plant and even the
tuber can be very toxic if it is allowed to turn green and should never be
eaten. Manipulation of potatoes in various ways or breeding with wild
varieties can induce the presence of these toxins in tubers so that new
varieties of potato are always tested for their presence. This should be
the case for all plants that have the potential to produce toxic

The formation of a new variety by biotechnology involves the transfer
to the plant usually of a single gene whose function is well understood.
It is also transferred to produce a specific effect so that its function
in the plant can be monitored. In the case of traditional breeding, many
thousands of genes are transferred the functions of the majority of which
are unknown. This will become of major importance when plants are crossed
to wild or primitive relatives or if mutagens are used to produce

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