Genetic use restriction technology
Genetic use restriction technology (GURT), colloquially known as terminator technology or suicide seeds, is the name given to proposed methods for restricting the use of genetically modified plants by causing second generation seeds to be sterile. The technology was developed under a cooperative research and development agreement between the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture and Delta and Pine Land company in the 1990s, but it is not yet commercially available.
- Variety-level Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (V-GURTs): This type of GURT produces sterile seeds, so the seed from this crop could not be used as seeds, but only for sale as food or fodder. This would not have an immediate impact on the large number of primarily western farmers who use hybrid seeds, as they do not produce their own planting seeds, and instead buy specialized hybrid seeds from seed production companies. However, currently around 80 percent of farmers in both Brazil and Pakistan grow crops based on saved seeds from previous harvests. Consequentially, resistance to the introduction of GURT technology into developing countries is strong. The technology is restricted at the plant variety level, hence the term V-GURT. Manufacturers of genetically enhanced crops would use this technology to protect their products from unauthorised use.
- T-GURT: A second type of GURT modifies a crop in such a way that the genetic enhancement engineered into the crop does not function until the crop plant is treated with a chemical that is sold by the biotechnology company. Farmers can save seeds for use each year. However, they do not get to use the enhanced trait in the crop unless they purchase the activator compound. The technology is restricted at the trait level, hence the term T-GURT.
Terminator seeds were initially developed as a concept by the United States Department of Agriculture and multinational seed companies. As of 2006, they had not been commercialized anywhere in the world due to opposition from farmers, indigenous peoples, NGOs, and some governments. In 2000, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity recommended a de facto moratorium on field-testing and commercial sale of terminator seeds; the moratorium was re-affirmed and the language strengthened in March 2006, at the COP8 meeting of the UNCBD. India and Brazil have passed national laws to prohibit the technology.
Where effective intellectual monopoly, specifically biological patents, doesn't exist or is not enforced, GURTs could be an alternative to stimulate plant developing activities by biotech firms.
Non-viable seeds produced on V-GURT plants may reduce the propagation of volunteer plants. Volunteer plants can become an economic problem for larger-scale mechanized farming systems that incorporate crop rotation.
Under warm, wet harvest conditions non V-GURT grain can sprout, which lowers the quality of grain produced. It is likely that this problem would not occur with the use of V-GURT grain varieties.
Use of V-GURT technology could prevent escape of transgenes into wild relatives and prevent any impact on biodiversity. Crops modified to produce non-food products could be armed with GURT technology to prevent accidental transmission of these traits into crops destined for foods.
- Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
- Convention on biological diversity
- Diamond v. Chakrabarty
- Genetic pollution
- Hybrid seed
- Genetically modified organism
- Seed saving
- Transgenic maize
- Digital rights management
- www.worldseed.org, International Seed Federation. "Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (Bangalore, June 2003)" (PDF). (Position Paper Supporting V-GURT development)
- Patrick Heffer. Biotechnology: a modern tool for food production improvement in Seed Policy and Programmes for the Central and Eastern European Countries, Commonwealth of Independent States and Other Countries in Transition. FAO Plant Production and Protection Paper 168. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001
- Jefferson RA et al. Genetic Use Restriction Technologies: Technical Assessment of the Set of New Technologies which Sterilize or Reduce the Agronomic Value of Second Generation Seed, as Exemplified by U.S. Patent No. 5,723,765, and WO 94/03619. Expert paper, prepared for the Secretariat on 30 April 1999
- Haider Rizvi, "BIODIVERSITY: Don’t Sell “Suicide Seeds”, Activists Warn", Inter Press Service News Agency, March 21, 2006
- "Moratorium". Ban Terminator. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
- UN Convention on Biological Diversity - Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
- USPTO Patent Number 5,723,765 - method for producing a seed incapable of germination, (claim no. 10)