Genetically modified (GM) crops have long drawn fire from opponents worried about potential contamination of conventional crops and other plants. Now, researchers writing in BMC Biology suggest that a newly discovered plant gene could help food producers reduce the risk of GM contamination - and quell arguments against the use of transgenic food crops.
Led by Sherif Sherif from the University of Guelph, the research is believed to be the first-ever study to identify a gene involved in altering fruit trees that normally cross-pollinate - needing one plant to fertilize another - into self-pollinators.
According to Sherif, the gene responsible for turning the fruit trees in to self-pollinators could one day be used in GM crops to prevent their pollen from reaching other plants.
Senior author, Professor Jay Subramanian revealed that the team identified a gene for a protein that naturally allows a small handful of plants to self-pollinate and make fruit before the flower opens.
Most plants develop open flowers to attract pollinators, but it takes energy to make flowers as well as nectar and pollen. Plants with closed flowers - knoan as cleistogamous - might have developed in environments lacking pollinators or under adverse conditions, said Subramanian.
"This is the first time we know of that someone has shown that, using molecular tools, you can induce cleistogamy in plants," he commented.
Besides aiding crop farmers and food producers, the gene discovery may also be of benefit to ingredients firms looking to isolate aroma compounds from flowers.
Indeed, the team suggested that food ingredients firms and perfume-makers could utilise the gene to allow growers to collect more aromatic compounds from flowers while they are closed.
"That's when volatile compounds are peaking," said Subramanian. "When the flower opens, you lose almost 80% of those volatiles."