I've been reading on terminator gene sequences and was wondering whether the same technology could be applied to GM crops to prevent transgene flow. Turns out Monsanto had developed the technology but pledged not to use it in their crops, from what I gather because it would have forced farmers to keep purchasing new seeds from the company annually.

Thus my question is: how feasible is it to genetically modify GM crops so that their gametes produce healthy offspring when crossed with other GM crops, but produce lethal mutations to the embryo if crossed with a non-GM crop in order to eliminate the possibility of transgene flow?


1 Answer 1


I can imagine a couple of different ways to do it. One would be "terminator" seeds of the kind that you mention. Another might be a gene drive style system to make GM-wild hybrids sterile.

I would argue that it's feasible right now to use the GURT systems such as terminator seeds to prevent cross-breeding- after all, you'd just have to set up the genetic switch to respond to a stimulus that you can control, and once the seed grows feral without the right stimulus, it becomes sterile or non-viable (see figure from wikipedia).

model of a genetic switch system outline that can be used to selectively sterilize an organism

The problem, as with any bioengineering, is that biology loves breaking rules and escaping from these kinds of systems in the wild under intense selective pressure.

This kind of mutational or epigenetic escape from the lethality system is probably rare enough to still make it worth it to Monsanto to develop the tech (especially when complemented with intellectual property legal instruments), but still plausible enough to freak out folks who don't like GM organisms.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .