VIB corn field trial Wetteren Genetically modified corn also larger in the field

17 December 2012
The first harvest of genetically modified corn plants in Wetteren confirms the earlier lab results: the genetically modified corn also grows larger in the field. This was demonstrated by the analysis of the cultivated corn. This concludes the first year of the three-year scientific field trials.
The measurements confirm the findings from the lab: the leaves are longer and the plants are taller. The VIB scientists have obtained new insights by testing the genetically modified corn plants in the field. This demonstrates once again that field trials form an essential part of scientific plant research.

The three-year scientific field trial of genetically modified corn plants started in Wetteren on 25 May 2012. The plants have an increased production of the enzyme GA20 oxidase. This enzyme is involved in the production of the plant hormone gibberellic acid (abbreviation GA). Gibberellic acid occurs naturally in plants and stimulates the growth and elongation of plant cells. Over the past years, VIB scientists lead by Dirk Inzé and Hilde Nelissen were able to confirm in the laboratory that the GA20 oxidase corn plants are up to 40 % larger than the control plants. The most important goal of this scientific field trial is to determine whether the plants also show their altered growth under non-controlled field conditions.

The early growth season of 2012 was very unfavorable for corn, with lots of rain and low temperatures. The corn plants remained small and flowering was delayed. The plants made up for this in August and September and the field trial was harvested on 17 October. The measurements in the field together with recently completed laboratory analyses confirm the findings of greenhouse experiments. Hilde Nelissen: “Compared to the control, the leaves of the GA20 oxidase corn plants were 30 to 60 % longer, whilst the genetically modified corn plants as a whole were nearly 40 % taller”. In addition, plant characteristics that could not be measured in the greenhouse could now also be analyzed. “This demonstrates that field trials are essential to gain new insights into the developmental processes of plants and their ability to adapt to changing conditions”, according to Dirk Inzé. The scientific corn field trial will be repeated as planned in 2013 and 2014. The corn plants will then be planted in various densities to determine whether the GA20 oxidase corn plants can contribute to a higher yield per hectare.

With this scientific field trial, VIB hopes to contribute to a better understanding of the processes that regulate plant growth. The field trial uses genetically modified plants, but the knowledge obtained can also be applied in conventional plant breeding strategies to improve harvests. VIB funded this field trial from its own resources and the trial was conducted on fields owned by the Institute for Agriculture and Fisheries Research (ILVO, Instituut voor Landbouw- en Visserijonderzoek), a scientific institution of the Flemish Government. VIB has no intellectual property rights on the role of the inserted genes or the use thereof in genetically modified plants.