[permaculture] [Fwd: [SANET-MG] terminators galore]
Lawrence F. London, Jr.
lfl at intrex.net
Mon Jun 13 18:13:36 EDT 2005
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [SANET-MG] terminators galore
Date: Mon, 13 Jun 2005 18:02:01 -0400
From: jcummins <jcummins at UWO.CA>
Reply-To: Sustainable Agriculture Network Discussion Group
<SANET-MG at LISTS.IFAS.UFL.EDU>
To: SANET-MG at LISTS.IFAS.UFL.EDU
Science for Peace
Volume 25, Issue 2
The author is Professor Emeritus at the University of Western Ontario.
In Canada, the Seed Sector Review advisory committee issued a report
calling for changes to legislation to (A) collect royalties on
farm-saved seeds, (B) compel farmers to buy officially certified seed,
and (C) terminate the right of farmers to sell common seed. The report
was financed by the Agriculture Ministry at a cost of nearly a million
dollars to the Canadian taxpayers but essentially rubber-stamped the
demands of multinational agricultural corporations (1). The onerous
licensing requirements of the biotechnology industry are to be extended
to all seeds, imposing a form of serfdom on any remaining independent
farmers. In the future it is likely that even home gardeners will face
the loony corporate payments for those willing to spy on neighbors and
report covert seed activity. We may be entering a time when the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police are required to raid grow operations such as a
row of radishes in a backyard garden.
The development of "terminator" technology goes hand in hand with the
corporate move to control production and use of seeds. Terminator
technology is the use of genetic engineering to produce seeds that can
be used only once. The progeny of such seeds would either produce no
flowers or produce seeds that provide grain or oil but cannot germinate
to produce as new plants. In other words, terminator blocks viable seed
production, production of pollen or ovule or the production of flowers.
The first terminators were developed by the United Sates Department of
Agriculture (USDA) and corporate interests, and that technology was
patented jointly by the corporation and USDA. As in Canada, the
regulator of genetically modified (GM) crops also acts as an advocate
and commercial developer of such crops (a clear conflict of interest).
The first terminator patent was granted to USDA and The Delta and
Pineland Corporation (later joined to Monsanto Corporation) in 1999.
That patent provoked a flurry of opposition both on the basis of the
fundamental right of farmers to save seed and on the scientific ground
that the genetic changes might harm those consuming the crops. In
response to those concerns Monsanto Corporation backed off from
immediate production of terminator seeds. But in spite of that action a
great deal of government sponsored research in the U.S. has focused on
development of terminator technology to provide financial benefits for
Beginning in 1999, the Institute of Science in Society in London,
England has distributed a number of reports by Dr. MaeWan Ho and myself.
In those reports we described the genetic technology of the original and
later biotechnology inventions (2,3,4,5,6,7). The basic design of the
constructions has been to prevent reproductive tissue from developing in
a way that allows the seed producer to maintain fertile lines that can
be maintained but also trigger the production of commercial seed lines
that cannot produce pollen or eggs, or produce lines that lack flowers.
The genes used to produce such lines usually involve reproductive cello
ablation (cell suicide genes) using toxins such as barnase ribonuclease
that digests cellular RNA, diptheria toxin or excess phytohormone
production in the reproductive tissue. In some cases anti-sense genes
have been used to block reproductive cells from maturing. Anti-sense
genes are complementary copies of the RNA gene messages governing
reproductive cell maturation forming double stranded RNA that is
recognized as an invading virus by the plant cell and destroyed.
During the 1990s a startling new discovery in plant molecular genetics
led to the identification of homeotic genes that govern the pathways
leading to cell differentiation. These specify proteins produced by
short stretches of DNA called MADS-boxes. These are the regions
controlling transcription of the genes involved in formation of
reproductive tissue, leaves, roots and branches that govern plant
development (8). That discovery has led to a flood of inventions
employing the MADS-boxes transcription factors to control flowering and
gamete production as terminators in trees and in crops. Steven Strauss
of the US Forest Service in Oregon has been field testing poplar trees
modified with cell suicide genes to eliminate flowering and plans to
extend that system to shade trees. Finnish researchers at Sopanen
University are developing this for sterile silver birch (9). Along with
concerns about the cell suicide toxins and their impact on animal life,
the sterile trees must be propagated asexually and thus lack genetic
diversity. This renders them sensitive to attack by emerging pathogens
and without a reservoir of diversity to mitigate the attack of the novel
pathogen. A flood of patent applications has begun to appear for control
of flowering or sexual development in both evergreen trees and crop
A flood of terminator trees and crops has been developed using
government funding and in some cases by government researchers. The main
scientific objection to such terminators has been the introduction of
untested and hazardous toxins such as cell suicide toxins. As well the
technology would result in genetic uniformity in forest expanses and in
crop lands rendering the trees and crops likely susceptible to plagues
resulting from the spread of emerging pathogens because the forests and
crops lack the reservoir of genetic diversity needed to counter novel
pathogens. The inventions will drive farmers and foresters into serfdom
at the behest of corporations and their lackeys in the government
Is it too late to terminate the terminators? It is not too late, but
once they begin to crowd out natural trees and crops it will be too
late. What can be done? We will soon have to have an international
convention to limit use of terminators. In the meantime it is wise to
alert the public to the extensive public funding of technologies that
threaten the farm community and public alike and benefit corporations
and their stockholders exclusively.
1. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, "The report of the seed sector
advisory committee 2004." http://www.seedsectorreview.com/reports-e.html
2. Ho, MW and Cummins J. "Chronicle of an Ecological Disaster Foretold."
ISIS Report, 20 February 2003; also Science in Society 2003, Spring, 18,
3. Ho, MW. "Terminator technologies in new guises." ISIS News 3,
4. Cummins J. "Terminator gene product alert." ISIS News 6, September 2000.
5. Ho, MW, Cummins J and Bartlett J. "Killing fields near you:
Terminator crops at large." ISIS News 7/8, February 2001.
6 Ho, MW and Cummins J. "Terminator patents decoded." ISIS News 11/12,
7. Cummins, J. and Ho, MW, "New terminator crops coming."
8. Cummins, J. "View from MADS house." http://www.i-sis.org.uk/
9. Cummins, J. and Ho, MW. "Terminator Trees." http://www.i-sis.org.uk/
10. Cummins, J. "Lurking terminators." (in preparation).
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