Most concerns regarding genome instability in transgenic plants are actually not exclusive to those plants but apply for traditional bred and wild plants as well. Woody plants derived from conventional breeding methods have been freely used for many years without similar concerns from the public opinion (reviewed in Predieri 2001). Those plants have, unlike GM plants, unspecific genome changes which should also be considered as risk factors.
Gene silencing, recombination, mutations, activation of retrotransposons or endogenous viruses, and many other forms of genome instability, are risk factors common to both transgenic and non-transgenic plants.
The huge genome plasticity detected in plants pose the question as to whether it makes sense presenting GM plants as the only group of plants representing a biosafety risk factor regarding genome instability. In fact, there is no evidence to support such a statement.
Although GM plants do not seem to have a more instable genome than other plants, there is a demand for more information supporting their risk free status by some non-governmental organizations opposed to genetic engineering. However, biosafety research will probably never be able to detect all possible genome instabilities in GM plants, just as it will not be possible for wild or traditional bred plants. Risk assessment of GM plants should try to clarify at most if these plants can be more prone to genome instability than non-transgenic wild and traditionally bred plants are.
Acknowledgements. We thank all our colleagues for their published papers. The authors apologize to colleagues whose relevant work has not been mentioned.
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