Finding unknown GMOs


One major limitation to basic testing protocols is the fact that a GMO can only be detected if it is being sought. Any transgenic event that was not considered in the design of the test could go undetected. If a GMO is imported that European authorities aren’t aware of, it could escape detection and make it to European markets and foods. Research needs to be done to validate ways of detecting unknown transgenic lines.


Almost all transgenic plants contain a few common building blocks that make unknown GMOs easier to find. Even though detecting a novel gene in a GMO can be like finding a needle in a haystack, the fact that the needles are usually similar makes it much easier.

Most GMOs have certain things in common. To trigger gene expression, scientists couple the gene they want to add with what is known as a transcription promoter. The high-performing 35S promoter is a common feature to many GMOs. In addition, the stop signal for gene transcription in most GMOs is often the same: the NOS terminator.

Discovering these two genetic pieces is almost a sure sign that some GMO is present in the test sample. This project's goal is to keep up to date on all of the GMOs released in the world, including ones without 35S and NOS, and develop the technical tools necessary to help make testing agencies more confident that GMO tests aren’t letting obscure transgenics slip by.

To start, researchers compile a set of genetic sequences characteristic of GMOs. After genetic elements characteristic of GMOs are selected, methods and tools are developed for detecting them in test samples. Approaches being considered include microarrays and anchor PCR profiling.


Development of analytical methods and strategies for detection, identification and characterisation of unauthorised and unknown GMOs has been a major priority within the Co-Extra project. In parallel a modular decision support system (DSS) has been developed in which traceability and other information can also be taken into consideration. These developments together are expected to significantly reduce the challenges posed by unauthorised and unknown GMOs.

The presentation (see below) will give an overview of the state-of-the-art technologies and developments from the Co-Extra project relevant to the detection, identification and characterisation of unauthorised and unknown GMOs, and will also point out some of the remaining and possible future challenges of relevance. 

Presentation of results


National Veterinary Institute (NVI), Norway
Institut National de Recherche Agronomique (INRA), France
Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO), Belgium
GeneScan Analytics GmbH, Germany
RILKIT Institute of Food Safety, The Netherlands