Do animal genes get used in plants
Submitted by: Eric Wilson
Expert response from Steve Chandler
Suntory Flowers Limited
Thursday, 27/12/2018 21:35
Thank you for your question.
I think it’s important to take the opportunity before replying to point out that animals and plants share naturally many genes with the same function. These functions relate to the basic machinery of life, such as gene and cell replication and basic metabolism. This point has been made before in this forum but I think is an important concept to be familiar with.
To the question though and yes, animal (including human) genes do sometimes get used in genetically modified plants. As animal and plant genes are both made of DNA the methods for transferring animal genes to plants have been available for many years and these genes are expressed in plants ( see https://www.nytimes.com/1990/01/16/science/human-genes-turn-plants-into-factories-for-medicines.html as an early example). Using the genetically modified plants it is possible to produce proteins and peptides of medicinal and pharmaceutical value which can then be extracted for study. Another example where animal genes have been expressed in plants are the case of the expression of genes encoding “anti-freeze” proteins from flounder in tobacco and tomato. These experiments were done to see if resistance to freezing was changed in the transgenic plants. The biosafety clearing house (https://bch.cbd.int/database/) maintains a publicly available database where it is possible to see the types of animal genes and donor organism that are being used in research, in both transgenic plants and transgenic animals.
No animal genes have been used in any of the genetically modified plants which have been released commercially and no animal genes are present in any transgenic plant grown for food or for animal feed. The International Service for the acquisition of Agri-Biotech applications maintains a database where it is possible to see the source organisms of the genes used in the transgenic plants grown commercially around the globe (http://www.isaaa.org/gmapprovaldatabase/geneslist/default.asp).