GMO plant gives Australia GM wheat, but is it enough to prevent a biotech backlash?

Australia is looking to biotech to solve a complex problem—how to grow enough healthy vaccine proteins to treat millions of people each year.

The genetically engineered (GE) plant, being created by Melbourne-based company Origin Agritech, could also solve another nagging problem—how to keep them healthy?

The small seedlings inlaid on top of the plant require less water and fewer chemical inputs than standard wheatseed because they’re cleaner, according to Origin Agritech CEO Simon Harrison.

“Unlike conventional corn or rice or soybeans, which have to be grown in the environment, [genetically engineered] soybeans can be grown in as little as one-tenth of the space,” Harrison told CNBC in an interview. “It would be a quantum leap from what we currently do.”

The plant uses plant protein to morph into a plant cell, then forms plasmas (bonded air) and boosts crops with added nutrients.

But Australia’s latest wave of GM crops is not likely to trigger immediate controversy, with industry experts saying the recent diversion of GM cotton into China and Japan is in line with voluntary standards, and local laws.

But that doesn’t mean it will meet all of its potential.

“It is just a replacement that addresses a very specific problem—growing massive quantities of protein protein for vaccines,” Chris Keedy, professor of bioinformatics at the University of Liverpool told CNBC. “There are a lot of barriers that would have to be overcome for it to be truly effective.”

And once critics call for GM crops to be banned altogether—as they did in Australia, where they say GMO labeling will lead to an undue burden on consumers—the biotech giant could find itself without a product to sell.

Right now Australia has no GM crop trial program. The country is likely to approve a trial in the next year for a GM wheat that could be used to generate food for global food programs.

A spokesman for Origin Agritech told CNBC it has received no offers from major pharmaceutical companies to buy the plant, and when fully developed, would not compete with existing vaccines in the global market.

“This is not a production process in which they [the biotech firm] will sell the crop or a licensing program,” he added.

Leave a Comment