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5 National research projects devoted to the detection of GMOs
Several countries and communities are currently funding research
projects with the objective of developing or optimising methods
for the detection of genetically modified organisms. Most of the
research efforts focus on the identification of food stuffs, consisting
of or containing GMOs. Other activities are aiming at the detection
of GMOs in the environment.
5.1 The European Community
In October 1996, a three year EC project was started on the 'development
of methods to identify foods by means of genetic engineering'
Approximately 20 European laboratories are currently
participating in this project under the coordination of Dr. G.
Schreiber, 'Bundesinstitut für gesundheitlichen Verbraucherschutz
und Veterinärmedizin' (BgVV) (Schreiber, 1997). The Swiss
Federal Office of Public Health is one of the partners in that
project and the agency BATS will also take part in the near future.
The main objectives of the EC project include the optimisation
of existing detection methods, as well as the development of new
identification methods, taking into special consideration the
problems derived from the nature of the food matrix and the respective
organism used. The methods to be studied include multiplex-PCR,
PCR ELISA, DNA-Biosensors, direct hybridisation, 3SR, NASBA, AFLP
and protein diagnostic approaches.
During the last few years a working group for the development
of methods to detect foods produced by means of genetically engineering
('Entwicklung von Methoden zum Nachweis mit Hilfe gentechnischer
Verfahren hergestellter Lebensmittel') consisting of predominantly
German participants and headed by the BgVV has developed three
PCR-based detection methods using model organisms. Two of these
methods, one for the detection of a genetically modified potato
and the other for a genetically engineered Lactobacillus
in raw sausages have been completed and published (Schulze et
al., 1996; LMBG-Methodensammlung, 1996 and 'in press') (see section
3.1.1 Officially validated identification methods).
The third method, which was developed for the detection
of Streptococcus in yoghurt, will soon be finalised. Several
of the partners that participated in this working group now are
taking part in the EC project described under 5.1.
5.1.2 The United Kingdom
The Institute for Food Research in Norwich started a project in
1994 on 'tagging genetically engineered organisms'. In addition,
several projects are being pursued at the Laboratory of the Government
Chemist in Middlesex (project titles are given):
- 'Development and validation of DNA probe and PCR technology and
the introduction of reporter genes to detect very low levels of
GMOs in the environment' (MTS-programme, 1992-1997).
- 'Detection of genetically modified organisms in foods' (MAFF-funded,
- 'Honey from GM plants: integrity of pollen DNA, and expression
of promoters in floral organs' (MAFF-funded, 1995-1997).
- 'Monitoring releases of GM crop plants: herbicide-tolerant transgenic
oilseed rape' (DOE -funded, 1994-97).
- 'Development of methods to identify foods by means of genetic
engineering' (EC-funded, 1996-1999).
5.1.3 The Netherlands
A project in the Netherlands was recently initiated for the 'development
of a method to screen for the presence of transgenic soybean.'
The contributing partners are RIKILT-DLO and TNO-Voeding. The
project is funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Conservation
and Fisheries and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports.
Research with the objective to develop detection methods, to test
such methods in inter-laboratory studies and to apply them in
the laboratories that are finally responsible for the control
of actual food samples are carried out by the Swiss Federal Office
of Public Health (BAG), a federal sub-commission (SK 29A), academic
laboratories and by food control laboratories ('Kantonale Laboratorien')
of the federal states ('Kantone').
A screening method applicable to the detection of the approved
transgenic soybeans (Pietsch et al., 1997; Waiblinger et al.,
1997) is being tested in an inter-laboratory study. A product-specific
method developed in collaboration with R. Meyer, Nestlé,
is also being tested. Furthermore, a highly sensitive product-specific
method for the detection of transgenic soybeans from Monsanto
using nested PCR (University of Berne), and a specific method
for detecting the presence of transgenic corn from CIBA-GEIGY
(now Novartis) in food (SK29A, BAG, Kantonale Laboratorien Basel
and Bern) are currently being developed.
The Research Division of the Bureau of Microbial Hazards in 'Health
Canada' is collaborating with several academic laboratories on
the development of methods to detect GMOs; the projects include
the detection of GMOs in food stuffs using DNA probe hybridisation
and conventional as well as in situ PCR. Another project involves
the use of bioluminescence technology in order to monitor GMOs
in food; further projects focus on monitoring of GMOs in the environment.