True Blue Genes

November 12, 2011 07:42 AM

New technology keeps pollen from GM hybrids at bay

Fifteen years ago, the introduction of genetically modified corn containing the Bt trait met with rapid acceptance by U.S. farmers eager to stop European corn borer in its tracks. That one trait heralded a sea change in the corn industry as additional traits were developed.

Today, about 88% of the 92.3 million corn acres farmers grew in 2011 were planted to hybrids containing at least one genetically modified organism (GMO). Most of the hybrids planted contain multiple or stacked traits.

However, not every farmer wants to grow hybrids with traits. Plus, some market opportunities are available for nontraited corn, though pollen drift from GMO hybrids make the production of genetically pure conventional hybrids increasingly difficult to achieve.

For a handful of farmers, that concern will be gone with the introduction of three nontraited corn hybrids from Blue River Hybrids in Kelley, Iowa.

The hybrids contain gene-blocking technology called Ga1S, short for gametophytic incompatibility, which prevents cross-pollination in corn, says Maury Johnson, company president. The hybrids, under the PuraMaize brand name, will be available this fall.

"Essentially, the pollen from Ga1S outraces any foreign pollen from neighboring corn fields and travels down the silk to fertilize the PuraMaize hybrids first," Johnson explains. Ga1S technology was first used in the 1950s for popcorn production.

Research by Blue River Hybrids during the past four years shows that the PuraMaize corn hybrids block at least 99% of pollen from any traited or conventional hybrids growing nearby.

Fewer than 2,000 total bags, split between the three PuraMaize hybrids, will be available for the 2012 season. Johnson says the hybrids, which fit the 101- to 114-day range of maturity, are priced at $210 per bag.

While quantities are limited, he says, the company will increase the seedstock as quickly as possible.

True Blue Genes
David Rhea grows non-GMO, food-grade waxy corn, a special type considered to be a valuable source of industrial starch.

Emphasis on organic. Blue River Hybrids markets primarily to farmers who focus on the organic production of corn hybrids used for animal feed.

Johnson says that he expects that farmers growing conventional, non-GMO corn will want to try the new PuraMaize hybrids.

Farmer David Rhea has grown non-GMO, food-grade waxy corn near Monrovia, Ind., for the past 10 years in order to tap into premiums.

"You definitely earn your premium; this isn’t for everyone, though," he says.

Meticulous production practices, including field isolation and border rows, are standard aspects of growing nontraited corn production in order to limit its exposure to traited corn, says Peter Thomison, Ohio State University Extension corn specialist.

Researchers don’t see non-GMO hybrids as a huge opportunity though, says Major Goodman, a plant breeder at North Carolina State University.

Mike Kavanaugh, agronomy manager for AgriGold, agrees. He encourages farmers to evaluate several factors, including rotation practices, insect pressure, weed control needs and the hybrid’s yield potential, before growing non-GMO corn.

Blue River procured the PuraMaize genetic material from Tom Hoegemeyer, former president and head of research and development for Hoegemeyer Hybrids. Today, the company is owned by DuPont. Hoegemeyer holds the patent for the Ga1S gene. Additional hybrids from the gene are under development by Goodman and his colleague Chris Reberg-Horton. They hope to introduce them to farmers in the Southeast in 2016.

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Spell Check

11/28/2011 12:29 PM

  The gene Hogemeyer patented has been in the public domain for over 50 years! The patent office had no business granting that patent.


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