Controversy Associated With the Common Component of Most Transgenic Plants – Kanamycin Resistance Marker Gene

Srećko Jelenić

Department of Molecular Biology, Faculty of Science, University of Zagreb, Rooseveltov trg 6, HR-10000 Zagreb, Croatia

Article history:

Received: March 14, 2003
Accepted: April 24, 2003

Key words:

plant genetic engineering, nptII, transgenic plants, horizontal gene transfer, antibiotic resistance marker gene, food safety, GM crops


Plant genetic engineering is a powerful tool for producing crops resistant to pests, diseases and abiotic stress or crops with improved nutritional value or better quality products. Currently over 70 genetically modified (GM) crops have been approved for use in different countries. These cover a wide range of plant species with significant number of different modified traits. However, beside the technology used for their improvement, the common component of most GM crops is the neomycin phosphotransferase II gene (nptII), which confers resistance to the antibiotics kanamycin and neomycin. The nptII gene is present in GM crops as a marker gene to select transformed plant cells during the first steps of the transformation process. The use of antibiotic-resistance genes is subject to controversy and intense debate, because of the likelihood that clinical therapy could be compromised due to inactivation of the oral dose of the antibiotic from consumption of food derived from the transgenic plant, and because of the risk of gene transfer from plants to gut and soil microorganisms or to consumer’s cells. The present article discusses these possibilities in the light of current scientific knowledge. 

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