Team:Valencia UPV/policy/overview


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Policy and Practices > Overview


Policy and Practice is not just the cherry on the cake; it is an essential constituent of Synthetic Biology. Thus, it permeates the whole Sexy Plant project, conceived as a responsible research one. To start with, our motivation was to address a challenge of social relevance: protection of crops is essential for economical and social sustainability in a world with an ever-growing population. We also tried to understand the benefits and risks of our approach. Not only safety and environmental protection drove the biosafety module. To tune our project and ensure its outcome is in line with societal expectations, we engaged a wide range of social actors and stakeholders throughout the whole of it (see Activities): bio-farm companies, (eco-)farmers associations, research experts, social researchers, etc. Of course, we are also enthusiast about transmitting the world of plant Synthetic Biology to the iGEM community, next generations and whole society ( see Outreach ).

Major issues that arise when designing and developing the Sexy Plant project are asked and answered below:

Is intercropping a genetically modified plant in the field a safe practice?

One of the most frequent concerns when talking about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is regarding safety. Since the beginning of our project, we thought of our Sexy Plant as not intended for human consumption or animal feed. The Sexy Plant's purpose is to release enough amount of insect sexual pheromone to cause mating disruption among insects in the surroundings, protecting the crops of interest from pests. In this way, our synthetic plant won't produce harm in humans or animals because of ingestion.

Additionaly, our team is very concerned about safety. For this purpose, we developed a biosafety module and made it available for all the future iGEM teams (and BioBrick users) that work with plants. It consists of a male sterility submodule, that avoids self-pollinization and hence uncontrolled propagation of the plant in the field, and an identity preservation submodule, which allows an easy and fast way to recognize by sight these genetically engineered plants.

Our whole project is focused on working to bring people closer to accept transgenic plants instead of fighting them. From the feedback that we have received, a transgenic plant that is not intended for nutrition, unable to propagate across the field, easily identifiable in every moment and which avoids the death of the moths that cause the pests is perfectly safe. We are proud of helping society to understand that GMOs and safety are perfectly compatible if the appropiate measures are always considered.

How is the Sexy Plant safer and sustainable than other methods of pest control?

The most common pest control methods that are currently used are fumigation with pesticides and the use of chemically synthesized insect sexual pheromones.

Pesticides receive harsh criticism from general public as they are broad-spectrum, so they kill other insects which are not the target, altering the local ecosystem. When they are applied, insects end up becoming resistant to pesticides, so higher doses are needed, which are even more dangerous for the environment and living beings.

Chemically synthesized pheromones can be either used in insect traps that lure the insect into them and mating disruption strategies. These strategies are safer than pesticides but the synthesis process is expensive and requires specialized installations and staff to get rid of the toxic residues that are generated.

Our Sexy Plant is a safe and sustainable alternative to current pest control methods. It is safe because it releases insect sexual pheromones that produce mating disruption among insects without killing them and producing no residues. And it is sustainable because it doesn’t require toxic or expensive products, it only requires palmitic acid as a substrate, which is naturally present in the plant, so it is cheap and available. Furthermore, the aforementioned biosafety module makes it easily distinguishable from wild-type plants and male sterile so it can only be reproduced in vitro.

Aside from the opinion of general public, how is the Sexy Plant project received among experts?

We would like to thank many experts, both academics and representatives from private enterprises, who gave us their feedback and their support as well as their time to discuss our project. They all got a good impression about our Sexy Plant and desire us luck at the contest. Their names are listed below by alphabetical order:

  • Matilde Eizaguirre Altuna. Full Professor. Department of Crop and Forest Sciences. University of Lleida.
  • Nemesio Fernández Martínez. Director of the School of Agricultural Engineering (ETSIAMN). Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV).
  • Jose María García Álvarez-Coque. Director of Sustainable Agriculture Group. Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV)
  • Jorge García-Serra García. Director of the School of Industrial Engineering. Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV).
  • Juan Francisco Giner Gonzálbez. Director of Bayer CropScience Chair.
  • Francisco Girona. Agriculture engineer at Cooperatives for Agrofood industry (FECOAV).
  • Ismael Navarro Fuertes. Centre for Agricultural Chemical Ecology (CEQA). Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV).
  • Vicente Navarro Llopis. Centre for Agricultural Chemical Ecology (CEQA). Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV).
  • Vicente Pallás Benet. Director of the Institute of Plant Molecular and Cell Biology (IBMCP).
  • José Pío Beltrán. Professor of Research of The Spanish Research Council (CSIC) at the Institute of Plant Molecular and Cell Biology.
  • Jaime Primo Millo. Professor of Organic Chemistry. Centre for Agricultural Chemical Ecology (CEQA). Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV).
  • Jorge Silva. Technical Department Manager of Bayer CropScience.
  • Sam Tothill. Professor of Biosensors in Health. Engineering Sciences Division. School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing (SATM). Cranfield University.
  • Sandra Vacas González. Centre for Agricultural Chemical Ecology (CEQA). Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV).