Field trials with genetically modified plants

Experimental release of genetically modified winter wheat strains

Application B/CH/16/01 (2016-2022)

Since the mid-1990s, increase in wheat yield has stagnated in Switzerland and other European countries, after following a linear increase for decades. For this reason new possibilities have been investigated to increase yield potential further, for instance, using genetically modified wheat varieties that possess an additional gene for sucrose transport, thus allowing them to transport more sucrose to the grain. Greenhouse trials with these wheat strains have produced an increased yield of 5%. The genetically modified wheat strains are now being cultivated at the protected site in order to ascertain whether this yield increase also occurs under natural conditions.

The SECB has issued a Statement on this application, and has approved the experimental release.

SECB Statement on the experimental release of genetically modified winter wheat strains with potential for increased yield (in German)

Information from the applicant on the experimental release

Information from the FOEN on application B/CH/16/01

Experimental release of cisgenic apple trees

Application B/CH/15/01

Fire blight, caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora, is one of the most severe and most widespread bacterial diseases of apple and pear orchards worldwide. The apple varieties currently available on the market generally show little resistance to this disease. Wild apples, on the other hand, have naturally occurring resistance to fire blight. One of the resistance genes is FB_MR5 from the wild apple Malus x robusta 5. The ETH Zurich (Federal Institute of Technology) has inserted this resistance gene using genetic engineering methods into the apple variety “Gala Galaxy”. The cisgenic apple trees will now be planted on the Protected Site under near real-life conditions, and different factors will be investigated.

The SECB has issued a Statement on this application, and approved the experimental release.

SECB Statement on the experimental release of cisgenic apple trees with improved resistance to fire blight (in German)

Information from the applicant on the experimental release

Information from the FOEN on application B/H/15/01

Experimental release of genetically modified potato strains

Application B/CH/14/01 (2015-2019)

Late blight is a problem for potato crops. An effect of the fungus-like organism Phytophthora infestans, this disease causes crop failures in Switzerland and is combatted with fungicides. Wild potato species contain resistance genes against late blight, known as Rpi genes (resistance to Phytophthora infestans). Wageningen University (NL) has inserted some of these resistance genes using recombinant gene technology into conventional potato varieties. These cisgenic potato strains have already been tested in the laboratory, greenhouse and field trials in the Netherlands, and their resistance to Phytophthora infestans has been confirmed.

Some of these potato strains are now to be tested under Swiss conditions in field trials on the Protected Site of Agroscope Reckenholz. Investigations will include whether the Rpi genes are also effective against Swiss isolates of P. infestans.

The SECB has issued a Statement on the application and approved the experimental release.

SECB Statement on experimental releases of genetically modified potato strains with improved potato late blight resistance

Information from Agroscope on the application 

Information from the FOEN on application B/CH/14/01


Experimental release of genetically modified Pm3 wheat strains

Application B/CH/13/01 (2013)

This experimental release is a continuation of experiments begun by the University of Zurich in 2008-2011 under NRP 59. Wheat strains were developed with additional Pm3 alleles that provided resistance to the mildew pathogen. Existing strains were also crossed with one another, so that they now carry two different resistance alleles. The strains were tested in the laboratory and the greenhouse, and will now be investigated in field tests.

The SECB has issued a Statement on this application, and unanimously approved the experimental release.

SECB Statement on the Experimental release of genetically modified Pm3 wheat strains

Information from the University of Zurich on the application

Information from the FOEN on application B/CH/13/01

Experimental releases of genetically modified wheat as part of NRP 59

Applications B/CH/07/01, B/CH/07/02 und B/CH/07/04 (2008-2011)

Fungal diseases in wheat are a major problem. There are however genes that provide natural resistance to fungal diseases. One such gene is Pm3, which acts against the mildew pathogen, and which occurs in different variants known as alleles. All the alleles originate in old wheat varieties. The University of Zurich is researching these resistance genes, and has produced various genetically modified strains of wheat, which have been tested in field trials (Application B/CH/07/01).

A further form of natural resistance to pathogens is the expression of so-called quantitative resistance genes. These have a very broad host spectrum, but do not confer complete resistance. Two such gene products are chitinases and glucanases from barley. These genes were inserted into the wheat strain Frisal (Application B/CH/07/02) and tested in field trials.

One possible crossing-out partner of wheat is jointed goatgrass, Aegilops cylindrica. Hybrids of the transgenic wheat strains and Aegilops cylindrica have been produced in the greenhouse and also investigated in field trials (Application B/CH/07/04).

The experimental releases form a framework for nine projects that have come together to form the Wheat Consortium. Six of these projects have primarily investigated aspects of biosafety.

The SECB has issued several Statements on the Applications, and in each case reached a majority opinion that the experiments involved a negligible risk to humans and the environment. It approved the experiments, but tied them to particular conditions.

SECB Statements on the experimental releases under the NRP59

Information on NRP 59

Information on the “wheat-cluster.ch”

Information from the FOEN on the applications:

Application B/CH/07/01 (in German)

Application B/CH/07/02

Application B/CH/07/04

Experimental release of genetically modified KP4 wheat

Application B/CH/00/03 (2001-2004)

In January 2001 the ETH Zurich (Federal Institute of Technology) submitted an application for an experimental release of genetically modified wheat in Lindau to what was then called the Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape (SAEFL). The wheat had been modified to produce a KP4 protein, which gave it resistance to wheat bunt, a fungal infection. 

In several Statements, the SECB concluded that the small-scale experiment did not pose any significant risk to humans and the environment, but it tied the performance of the experiment to various conditions.

SECB Statements on the experimental release of wheat by the ETH Zurich

Information from the FOEN on Application B/CH/00/03

Even before the Release Ordinance came into force, the SECB considered the following applications for field trials of maize and potatoes:

Application to release genetically modified maize T25

Application B/CH/98/01 (1999)

In 1999, the company Plüss Staufer AG planned to release transgenic maize for experimental purposes at two locations in the Commune of Oftringen. The objective of the experiment was to test the efficacy of the herbicide glufosinate on T25 maize. 

In its Statement of 03.03.1999 the SECB concluded that performing the experimental releases did not pose any foreseeable risk to the environment (statement in German):

SECB Statement on the experimental release of maize by Plüss-Staufer AG

Information from the FOEN on Application B/CH/98/01

Application to release genetically modified potatoes

Application B/CH/98/02 (1999) 

In 1999 the Federal Research Station for Plant Production Changins (RAC) wanted to release transgenic potatoes in the Communes of Duillier and Bullet. The objective of the experiment was to test the potatoes' resistance to Late Blight.

In its Statement of 02.03.1999 the SECB concluded that performing the experimental releases did not pose any foreseeable risk to the environment (statement in German):

SECB Statement on the experimental release of potatoes by RAC

Information from the FOEN on Application B/CH98/02

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Last edition: 25.04.2019

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