Terminator Technologies (GURTs)

Controlling seeds – and protecting intellectual property

Terminator plants - technically known as V-GURTs (genetic use restriction technologies) - are several different technologies designed to either render seeds sterile at harvest or to prevent saved seeds from growing into mature plants by disrupting plant development at various stages. They were first presented in 1998 as a patented ‘technology protection system’ to stop farmers from saving and growing seeds of patented crops, triggering a global outcry. Later terminator technology was (and continues to be) put forward as a containment strategy for GM crops; this was done on a hypothetical basis rather than being based on any data.

In their design, pollen from V-GURTs plants is fertile and could contaminate crops on other fields. The resulting seeds would be sterile if all goes to plan. It would be a serious threat to food security if farmers unknowingly kept and sowed such sterile seeds in the next season.
The technology is still at the development stage. Scientific articles have been published about some components of transgenic switch mechanisms, but not on functioning V-GURTs plants. However, these articles already indicate that V-GURTs will not offer a fully reliable system to prevent contamination of GM crops.
Due to the risks and the threat to food security, a de facto global moratorium is in place against terminator plants.
Investigating terminator seeds
EcoNexus has been investigating terminator technology since 1998, first presenting on this technology at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that same year. Our article Terminator Technology – The Threat to Global Food Security was published in 1999 and continues to be relevant.
The more technical report V-GURTS - Design, Reality and Inherent Risks gives detailed information on the different approaches and their specific risks.
Two more specific papers for CBD meetings focus on the questions why terminator seeds are not a reliable biological containment system and why it would be irresponsible to conduct open field trials with them.

GURTs: No Case for Field Trials

No peer-reviewed scientific data has been published on GURTs since 2000 that would alter the assessment and implications of CBD decision V/5-III, recommending that field trials not take place before ”appropriate scientific data can justify such testing”. In particular, there is an absence of:

  • Evidence that the components of GURTs (individually and in combination) perform with the degree of reliability and accuracy required for a stable and reliable GURT;
  • Evidence concerning impacts on the environment, biodiversity, and human health;
  • Evidence that v-GURTs applications to be used for bio-confinement will not allow gene flow to occur, via seed or pollen.

Unless reliable data from greenhouse trials, published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, can show the existence of a complete GURT and its reliable and stable performance, and address outstanding issues, there is no reason for Parties to the CBD to consider field trials or
case-by-case risk assessment.

V-GURTs (Terminator Technology)

This paper describes in brief the concepts and design behind Terminator technology or Genetic Use Restriction Technology (GURTs) in language accessible to non-scientists. It details the different elements that are theoretically required to assemble gene sequences designed to prevent the germination of seeds.

V-GURTs (Terminator)

Any biological containment system setting out to prevent gene flow of transgenes via pollen and seed must be 100% reliable and effective.
At present there are a number of molecular containment strategies that aim to restrict gene flow either via pollen, seed or sprouting of vegetative organs (e.g. tubers). Such strategies include male sterility, maternal inheritance, seed sterility, prevention of sprouting, apomixis and temporal and tissue specific control.

Terminator Technology

Monsanto's latest flagship technology makes a nonsense of its claim that it seeks to feed the worlds hungry. On the contrary, it threatens to undermine the very basis of traditional agriculture - that of saving seeds from year to year. What's more, this “gene cocktail" will increase the risk that new toxins and allergens will make their way into the food chain.

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