State of the art on transgenic fruit trees and considerations on the consequences of the prohibitions imposed on research in Italy

Eddo Rugini [Dipartimento di Agricoltura, Foreste, Natura e Energia, Università della Tuscia]

Genetic transformation allows us to get a better understanding of gene function. This technique could also greatly accelerate the development of improved plants by access to the readily available and enormous national germplasm genebank which, however, still remains unappreciated today. The total veto imposed by the Italian government on the use of this technology is making Italian farmers and seed companies dependent on foreign companies and unable to defend national gemplasm with an obvious disastrous impact on economy. In Italy, agricultural policy is strongly influenced by international pressures and by a national cartel composed of representative of specific economic interests such as distribution companies, food industries and large landowners, while the scientific community has no impact at all. These lobbies intentionally use the acronym “GMO” to scare the public by spreading misleading information with the goal of maintaining the status quo and limiting the evolution of the Italian agricultural market as much as possible. This strategy was also successful in blocking not only production and sale of new, improved Italian germplasm, but went so far as to put a dramatic halt to research, in a medieval-style attempt at stopping progress. It is necessary to promote a national debate with the representatives of developing countries to discuss the use of Genetically Engineered Plants (GEPs) in geographic areas such as Africa and Asia were millions of people are dying of starvation. Such debate should avoid the terror tactics used in Europe by political parties to protect specific lobby interests and should focus only on facts and scientific data. Since politics have been proven to be unable to solve the problem of global food distribution leaving millions of people to die of starvation every year, all the legal obstacles that limit diffusion of transgenic plants, and especially the ones that block the research and development and approvals of the plants already built must be abolished. Especially because these plants could save the lives of approximately one million children under the age of 5 every year. Furthermore, the ban imposed by some developed countries on the development and production of GEPs makes no sense at all when one consider that all the GEPs currently on the market are based on plants created with technologies that are about 20 years old. Modern technology could placate all the criticism generated by the first generation of GEPs and be of great support to the problems and to traditional breeding techniques. In the majority of the cases, this technology will be used to improve specifically the plants’ weak traits, providing an answer to farmers’ demands, while leaving untouched all others traits – a work that is over two decades in the making. Thanks to government sponsorship in the period between 1985 and 2002, Italian scientists were able to produce a variety of transgenic plants and fruit trees using regeneration protocols based on efficient cells that were derived from mature cultivar tissues. This review describes the regeneration and transformation strategies for fruit trees, for the production of cis- or trans-genic plants, in addition to describing the most important objectives and goals we obtained, and the problems we encountered. It is also described how to produce non-transgenic plants using a GEP mother plant, as well as the technique used to avoid the transmission of the transgene to other compatible plants nearby. Furthemore, the possible causes for public opposition to GEPs, and the risks and benefits derived from the proper use of this technology are discussed

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