Letter: A large gene pool ensures life

THE article by Wayne Brittenden, "'Terminator' seeds threaten a barren future for farmers" (22 March), was extremely worrying. The method of disabling re-germination by interpolating a new gene function could be dangerous. First, if only such plants are available, what could be done if a natural mutation were to arise affecting, say, the yield of such plants, or made them more susceptible to insect-borne viruses? If climate change required breeding of types with new adaptations, how could this be done at speed from a limited gene pool? Who will maintain sufficient varieties for future research, and how is this to be recorded?

Of equal concern is the possibility that the genetic modification might "escape" into wild populations of grasses or cereals. Terminator genes cannot be guaranteed to stay only where they are put. Commercial interests of the owner of the patent for terminator genes could lead them to hold agriculture to ransom, especially affecting poorer farmers in the Third World. A new ethical code, agreed internationally, is urgently needed to control exploitation of the very stuff of life.

Ursula A Broughton and Brian E Wright

Colchester, Essex