The potato with antibiotic resistance

Genetically modified potato (Solanum tuberosum) variety Amflora (EH92-527-1) is unsuitable for food. It has been developed by BASF and is approved mainly for industrial purposes. The amylopectin starch is taken out for industrial purposes, residues such as potato pulp and juice can only be processed into animal feed. The European Commission first proposed the cultivation and sale of the GMO potato Amflora in 2007 following the statement from EFSA. EU prime ministers and officials could not approve or reject the proposal. Subsequently, the Commission exercised unilateral approval in 2010. In 2010, the potato EH92-527-1 was grown in 26 places in the EU; 16 in Sweden, 9 in the Czech Republic and 1 in Germany. Genetically modified potato EH92-527-1 is inserted Gbss gene to produce potato without amylose, only amylopectin and inserted gene NptII gene for antibiotic resistance.

Absorption by bacteria of foreign GMO DNA can occur naturally, for example on the leaves of the GMO plant. A gene for antibiotic resistance from the GMO plants can enter bacteria on these plants. In order for such a gene as NptII to develop and become widespread in bacterial colonies, it must promote survival of the host bacterium. The presence of antibiotics in an environment can promote the development of an antibiotic-resistant strain and preclude the development of all other strains without antibiotic resistance. A selective pressure in the presence of antibiotics such as kanamycin may be all that is necessary to transform bacteria with the NptII gene. This could possibly occur in an environment such as, for example, a pig house.

This means that these are high risk plants because they can transfer this antibiotic resistance to bacterial species that are in contact with the plants. This hypothetical moment is drawn horizontally in time from one species to another. This is different to the general theory that all genes are inherited from their ancestors and are drawn with a downward direction vertically in time. Foreign genes from foreign species such as GMO plants can in some cases get into the cells of bacterial species and become part of the species' genes. This also means that this NptII gene from plant residues of the Amflora potato can in some rare cases enter other organisms such as microbes and become part of their DNA. Given the fact that DNA from plant tissue in the environment can be transferred to bacteria (see reference). Then there is a theoretical possibility (Bayesian) that the NptII gene for antibiotic resistance, which has been inserted into the potato plant from a bacterium, can be transferred to another bacterium again and again.

EFSA learned in 2009 from the Panel of Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) that horizontal gene transfer from plants to bacteria may be below the detection level. That, on the other hand, occurrences of GMO plants with an inserted gene for antibiotic resistance are so global and large that the cumulative probability of transmission can vary from unlikely to high. That there are alternatives to the use of antibiotic resistance as marker genes. That the emerging pandemic of antibiotic resistance poses a serious threat to public and animal health. That when bacteria with antibiotic resistance genes have achieved full viability, they will behave like other infectious bacterial diseases.

This information from BIOHAZ, which is described as minority opinion, was not forwarded by the EU Commission to the competent committees in the EU. This decision led to the European Commission being able to give unilateral approval in 2010. However, because the Commission had essentially failed to fulfill its legal obligations, the Court annulled the disputed decisions. BASF stopped growing Amflora potatoes in Europe in 2012. The reason was a lack of acceptance by the general public in Europe.


Approving the GM potato
Genetically modified potato Amflora
GMOs: EU decision-making process explained


Vogel TM, Pontiroli A, Rizzi A, Simonet P, Daffonchio D, Monier JM (2009) Visual evidence of horizontal gene transfer between plants and Bacteria in the phytosphere of transplastomic tobacco. Appl Environ Microb 75 (10):3314-3322

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