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Tamarillo protesters ignoring the benefits

HortResearch is surprised that protesters feel a need to target the Kerikeri Research Centre with a weekend long protest against a small trial of transgenic tamarillos. Protesters often assert that more research is needed into the effects of genetic modification, yet at the same time they are attempting to stop research that will further advance knowledge in this area.

"HortResearch has followed all safety and other protocols required by the regulatory bodies " HortResearch Scientist Dan Cohen said.

"Success in overcoming the mosaic virus would remove a significant barrier to tamarillo exports and open the way for a major export business for Northland," Dr Cohen said.

The transgenic tamarillo trial at Kerikeri is being grown under strict rules. It was started in January 1998, which was pre the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), though ERMA has since been involved in an inspection of the site.

Over a period of 20 years several attempts were made to obtain protection for tamarillos against the mosaic virus. None were successful and the mosaic virus continues to be a barrier to tamarillo exports.

Now using a transgenic approach it has been possible to insert a small part of the virus that infects most tamarillos into tamarillo plants. This is very similar to immunisation. The resulting trees proved to be resistant to virus infection in the laboratory and in controlled glasshouses.

After several years of laboratory tests, an application was made to test these plants in a contained field trial. And it was only after rigorous examination, including detailed questions about the risk of cross-pollination, that approval was granted. This trial is to see if the trees remain virus free in a natural environment. So far the tests are very encouraging.

The Tamarillo Growers Association have given strong encouragement to this trial, and Bruce Mulligan, Chairman of the Association said that anyone currently eating tamarillos is also consuming relatively large amounts of viral genes.

"The development of a virus-resistant tamarillo would be mutually beneficial, and also has the potential to reduce pesticide use, a widely accepted high priority to growers" he said.

ends

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