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Pea Trials Flee to US

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- Anna Meldolesi, Nature Biotechnology 28, 8 (2010)
Field trials of transgenic peas developed by a European university may relocate overseas to ensure a biotech-friendly environment. The University of Hannover in Germany is eyeing North Dakota as a safe place to evaluate several genetically modified (GM) pea lines intended as animal feed, under field conditions, marking the first time that EU-funded plant research has been forced to emigrate.

“Vandals are seen as heroes by some media. [Field trial] locations have to be disclosed precisely so that the eco-terrorists can program their GPS,” says Hans-Jörg Jacobsen, whose laboratory engineered the GM peas to express one or more antifungal genes. The relocation will be part of a scientific collaboration still under negotiation with the North Dakota State University (NDSU). Pollen flow is not a problem because peas are self-fertilizing plants, but in Germany, field testing could get into trouble anyway, and Jacobsen predicts there is an 80% chance the fields would be destroyed.

“We face a militant resistance, which is extremely difficult to handle by a scientist which usually has only a small budget and limited personnel,” sympathizes Jens Katzek from BIO Mitteldeutschland, a cluster promoting biotech. US trials are not expected to begin before 2011 for logistical reasons and will be performed ensuring “the highest level of containment and separation from commercial pea production channels,” says Kevin McPhee a plant geneticist at NDSU.