The contribution of metabolomics research to the environmental risk assessment of genetically modified plants

Research reports | 29.10.2013 | CGM 2013-04

Assigned by the GMO office and the COGEM, an exploratory desk study was performed to examine whether metabolomics as a technology can strengthen or expand the environmental risk analysis of genetically modified crops. Metabolomics deals with the search for small molecules (metabolites) in plants, animals or microorganisms. Important characteristics of crops, such as food quality, taste, nutrition, toxicity and allergenicity are directly related to the presence or absence of specific combinations of metabolites. Certain metabolites also work in low concentrations as signaling molecules to other organisms, for example fungi or herbivores.

The authors of the report conclude that metabolomics currently has little added value for the environmental risk assessment of GM crops. According to the authors, the knowledge on the role of specific metabolites in the interactions of the plant with its environment is limited and with current technologies, only a relatively small amount of detectable compounds can be identified. Furthemore, the metabolic composition changes continuously under the influence of environmental factors.

The COGEM notes that no metabolites have been identified that are associated with certain risk characteristics while this is critical for the environmental risk assessment. Furthermore, comparing metabolite profiles currently provides insufficient understanding of the potential environmental risks of GM plants. COGEM therefore endorses the conclusions of the researchers.

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