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Scientists produce poison-proof plants.

Scientists produce poison-proof plants

Genetic engineering is not for bacteria alone. Plants, too, can be genetically altered to resist chemical herbicides that fail to discriminate well between weeds and crops. In a handful of cases so far, scientists have managed to gene-alter plants to make them resistant to specific herbicides (SN: 5/28/88,p.348). In almost all of these cases, researchers made plants resistant by altering the production of "target" molecules to which herbicides normally bind in plants.

Now agricultural gene jockeys report engineering tobacco plants resistant to bromoxynil -- an herbicide that normally kills broad-leaved plants. But rather than altering the plants' target molecules, the scientists inserted into the tobacco plants a "detoxifying" gene -- taken from a soil bacterium - that codes for an enzyme, nitrilase, that breaks down bromoxynil. The transgenic plants produced measurable quantities of the enzyme and survived being doused with the herbicide, the researchrs report in the Oct. 21 SCIENCE. Progeny of the plants showed resistance as well.

"These [progeny] plants expressing nitrilase grow, flower and set seed normally, even when sprayed with concentrations of bromoxynil eight-fold higher than the highest field rate normally used," report David M. Stalker, Kevin E. McBride and Lorraine D. maylj of Calgene, Inc., a Davis, Calif.-based biotechnology company, where similar work is underway with cotton and tomatoes.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 5, 1988
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