Update on unauthorised genetically modified garden petunia varieties
Genetically modified (GM) garden petunias with an altered flower colour were detected in Finland in March 2017. They have since been detected in many other countries, including the Netherlands. No GM garden petunia varieties have been authorised for cultivation, import, distribution or retail in the European Union.
In May 2017, COGEM issued an advice on the illegal GM garden petunias. Based on the information that was available at that time, COGEM concluded that they pose a negligible risk to humans and the environment. COGEM committed itself to issue another advice as soon as more detailed information on the inserted transgenic elements would be available.
Molecular analyses that have been carried out since COGEM’s previous advice indicate that two types of GM petunia varieties have been sold. One type expresses the DFR gene from maize. These GM petunia varieties contain a bla gene fragment, followed by the 35S promoter, a DFR gene from maize, the 35S terminator, the nos promoter, the nptII gene and the ocs terminator. The second type expresses a gene encoding F3’5’H from petunia. These GM petunia varieties contain the nos promoter, the nptII gene, the nos terminator, the 35S CaMV promoter, a gene encoding F3’5’H from petunia, and the nos terminator.
Both genes are involved in the biosynthesis of anthocyanins. Expression of these genes changes the type and amount of anthocyanin pigments present in the flowers and alters the flower colour. In addition, both types of GM petunias express a nptII antibiotic resistance gene. COGEM has previously concluded that the presence of nptII antibiotic resistance genes in transgenic plants poses a negligible risk to the environment.
The garden petunia is a so-called tender perennial, which is grown as an annual in many climate zones. It is sensitive to moisture and frost and only sporadically survives the winter. The garden petunia has no invasive or weedy characteristics and is not able to establish and form self-sustaining populations in Northwestern Europe.
The survival of garden petunias is predominantly determined by their sensitivity to cold and wet conditions. A different flower colour or resistance to certain antibiotics will not alter the sensitivity of the garden petunia to these conditions. Although an exceptional GM garden petunia or its progeny (a seedling) may survive the winter, it is unlikely that GM garden petunias will establish themselves in the Netherlands. Even though over a million of GM orange garden petunias have been sold, COGEM is not aware of any reports on feral petunia populations with orange flowers in Europe.
In view of the above, COGEM is of the opinion that GM garden petunias with an altered flower colour pose a negligible risk to humans and the environment.