Safe sex for plants

Researchers have developed a type of corn that resists picking up genes from foreign strains, reports NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC NEWS. The new technique means traditionally-bred corn can be guaranteed not to carry genes from genetically modified corn — good news for wary consumers and farmers trying to sell into GMO-unfriendly markets.

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Corn plants are notoriously promiscuous, swapping genes with neighboring cornfields by way of wind- and insect-borne pollens. But teosinte, a close relative of maize, virtually never picks up genetic traits from corn even when the two are grown close together. It turns out a cluster of genes in teosinte creates a molecular barrier that locks the foreign genes out.

Using traditional breeding techniques, researchers have introduced the barrier-forming gene cluster into corn, creating hybrids that are resistant to contamination. Commercial quantities of seed should be available within three years.