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Biotech Sclerotinia Resistance In The Works

Thursday, February 1, 2001
filed under: Disease

Transgenic Sclerotinia Resistance In The Works

Sclerotinia was a keynote topic of the National Sunflower Association’s 2001 Research Forum held in Fargo, where John Soper gave an update on the transgenic approach for enhancing Sclerotinia resistance in sunflower.

Soper is former sunflower research director for Pioneer Hi-Bred, and was recently named the company’s soybean research director. Replacing Soper as Pioneer’s sunflower research director is current Pioneer oilseeds breeder Herb Schmidt, who will remain in Moorhead, MN.

Pioneer is collaborating with Advanta (Interstate Seed is its U.S.-based entity) on the development of a sclerotinia-resistance gene. The gene that is being researched for sclerotinia resistance is an oxalate oxidase (“ox-ox”) gene, isolated from the Pioneer wheat variety 2548.

Field tests demonstrate that it works—transgenic sunflower containing the ox-ox gene indeed shows Sclerotinia tolerance. However, maximum levels of Sclerotinia resistance will most likely be achieved by combining transgenic resistance enhancement with natural tolerance achieved through plant breeding, he says.

There are many studies, testing, and regulatory hurdles to overcome before any bio-engineered crop can be commercialized, says Soper. Among many factors that must be analyzed and reported, the research developer must indicate the source of the gene, submit data proving that it is non-toxic and doesn’t cause allergies, and whether it will affect yield or other plant characteristics and attributes.

In the case of sunflower, it needs to be proven whether oil or meal composition would be affected. Environmental safety also needs to be proven, and since sunflower is open-pollinated and can cross pollinate with wild sunflower and related species, that puts an extra regulatory burden on sunflower. However, Soper says, “we fully believe research will show there is no impact.”

When will a transgenic sunflower hybrid with Sclerotinia resistance be available? “Scientifically, we’re close to being there,” says Soper. How quickly regulatory hurdles can be cleared is more difficult to predict, however. But if everything goes well, a commercial hybrid could be available in less than five years, he says.—Tracy Sayler

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