Biotech Updates

USDA Decision on Deregulation of GM Plums

April 20, 2011

Scientists in West Virginia have planted purple-black HoneySweet plums, which are one of the two transgenic fruit trees approved by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). This genetically engineered (GE) fruit has been developed by the scientists of USDA to fight the emerging, invasive plum pox virus, which has infected 100 million trees in Europe and surfaced in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York during the past 12 years.

"We couldn't find a gene for plum pox resistance in any plums, so we turned to genetic engineering," says Ralph Scorza, a horticulturist and lead scientist at the USDA's Appalachian Fruit Research Station. "We've had test-field plantings in Europe since 1996 and the U.S. since 1995, and we've never had a single tree infected."

HoneySweet plums have been in the GM approval pipeline for eight years and will clear final regulatory hurdles this year. Scorza said that he does not expect farmers to plant the GE plum since plum pox can still be managed. But when the pathogen causes outbreaks in the U.S., especially in California which is the largest producer of prunes, HoneySweet will be of great help to producers.

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