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Intercontinental and temporal research studies on transgene engineered in plums

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Genetically modified plums in Europe

A genetically modified (GM) virus-resistant plum may pave the way for the introduction of other GM fruit trees to Europe. This could help European fruit trees resist the spread of pathogens into new areas due to climate change.

Climate Change and Environment

Plum pox virus (PPV) causes severe disease in plums and other stone fruit trees throughout Europe, and more recently the Americas. Transmitted by aphids and spread long distances by transferring infected plant material to new locations, the only defence against the disease is to destroy all infected trees. The EU-funded INTEREST (Intercontinental and temporal research studies on transgene engineered in plums) project has characterised a GM plum tree as a potential PPV-resistant variety. HoneySweet contains a gene from the virus that protects the plant through acquired immunity, much like vaccination in animals. In over 13 years of field testing in the Czech Republic, researchers have shown that HoneySweet is highly resistant to PPV and could benefit European agriculture. INTEREST therefore evaluated HoneySweet's potential as a model GM fruit tree, particularly to address concerns about introducing this technology into the European environment. HoneySweet is currently deregulated in the United States. Researchers first studied the resistance mechanism and durability of HoneySweet plants grown in different agro-climatic conditions in the Czech Republic and the United States and in a greenhouse controlled condition in France. They also looked at different virus exposure levels in the EU. INTEREST tested virus resistance using artificial graft inoculation, where an infected part of a susceptible plant is grafted onto virus-free rootstocks. Importantly, through these artificial conditions, they detected PPV only in leaves situated close to the inoculation point, indicating that the virus could not spread to other tissues. Project research also looked at the molecular basis of the resistance – silencing through epigenetic DNA methylation. Comparing DNA from HoneySweet trees grown in the United States showed no influence of temperature on methylation. HoneySweet's fruit quality and quantity was not affected by PPV infection, even when researchers added other severe plum viruses to increase the viral load. INTEREST research results for the HoneySweet plum show great promise in terms of virus resistance and safety. In addition to economic benefits gained from combating PPV, the environment should benefit through reduced use of insecticides normally required to kill aphids.

Keywords

Genetically modified, plum, Europe, plum pox virus, INTEREST, HoneySweet

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