A Brief History of Genetic Science and Regulation

From prehistoric times crop plants and animals have been improved by selective breeding.  The beginning of agriculture was the selection of wild grasses and subsequent breeding to form the precursors of modern staples such as wheat, rice and maize. Selection procedures have achieved huge differences in form and function from single wild species: e.g. the Great Dane and Chihuahua dog varieties from the wolf. Furthermore, 'unnatural' hybrids -- i.e. creating breeds across species barriers - were made in ancient times. For instance the mule, a cross between a jackass or male donkey and a mare has been used as a pack animal in Europe for at least 3,000 years; however Mules are usually sterile and only very rarely reproduce.

1859 Charles Darwin published the first edition of The Origin of the Species which, amongst other things, gives extensive information on the knowledge of breeding at that time.

1865 Gregor Mendel's publicised his discoveries on the breeding of peas, which became the foundation of modern genetics.

1869 Friedrich Miescher discovers nuclein -- a major component of which is DNA -- in the cell nucleus.

1902 Walter Sutton & Theodor Boveri propose that inheritance is due to chromosomes

1910 T. H. Morgan demonstrated that the chromosomes are the concrete entities which carry the genes. (Also Clavin Bridges, 1916)

1913 A.H. Sturtevant constructed a genetic map.

1927 H. J. Muller demonstrated that genetic mutation could be induced by X-rays.

1931 Barbara McClintock and Harriet Creighton demonstrate direct physical recombination (the linking of DNA from different chromosomes) by examining maize chromosomes microscopically.

1941 George Beadle and E. L. Tatum pinned a gene defect down to a single step in a biochemical pathway that would normally be carried out by an enzyme. They restored normal growth to a mutant micro-organism by adding the missing enzyme.

1953 James Watson and Francis Crick proposed the double helix structure of DNA.

1958 Matthew Meselson and Franklin Stahl demonstrated the semi-conservative replication of DNA. This is when the DNA forms a copy of itself, one stand remains the same, and the other contains newly synthesised DNA.

1966 Marshall Nirenberg & Har Gobind Khorana finished unravelling the genetic code.

Late 1960s Stewart Linn & Werner Arber discovered restriction enzymes in E. coli.

1973 Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer, invented the technique of DNA cloning, which allowed genes to be transplanted between different biological species

Identification of the Ti plasmid in a bacteria (Agrobacterium tumefaciens) used for genetically engineering plants; it is used as a vector to introduce foreign DNA into plant cells.

1974 Stanley Cohen, Annie Chang and Herbert Boyer create the first genetically modified DNA organism

1975 Conference held in the USA at which scientists met behind closed doors to reach a consensus on self regulation and how the newly discovered recombinant DNA technology (genetic engineering) should proceed.

1976 The National Institutes of Health in the United States produce guidelines for genetic modification research.

1977: Frederick Sanger developed chain termination DNA sequencing allowing scientists to read the nucleotide sequence of a DNA molecule.

1980 First transgenic (genetically modified) mouse.

1982 Giant mouse produced by transferring growth hormone genes from a rat.

1983 Kary Mullis, a biochemist invented the ‘polymerase chain reaction’ which is a technique enabling scientists to reproduce bits of DNA faster than ever before. (Mullis was awarded the Nobel Prize for this in 1993)

Four separate groups of scientists create GM plants; three groups insert bacterial genes into plants and one inserts a bean gene into a sunflower plant.

Richard Palmiter and Ralph Brinster placed the gene for human growth hormone in an early mouse embryo. The resulting adult was double the normal size.

1980's to early 1990's China first to put GM crops on sale, namely a virus-resistant tobacco and a tomato.

1984 Development of genetic fingerprinting, a technique that has greatly helped the police force in finding and identifying criminals.

1985 First transgenic domestic animal, a pig.

First transgenic plant produced which was resistant against a definite insect species.

1987 A series of transgenic mice produced carrying human genes.

A transgenic plant produced resistant to a particular kind of herbicide.

1988 First transgenic plant producing a pharmaceutical.

Transgenic maize (corn) produced.

First animal patented: the Harvard University 'oncomouse', a transgenic mouse genetically engineered to develop cancer.

1989 Publication (Science 254: 1281-1288) of data about the 'Beltsville pig'; a transgenic pig (named after the agricultural research station in Maryland USA), which suffered a range of pathological conditions because it had a gene for human growth hormone.

1990 GM used to make chymosin, an enzyme used in making hard cheese.

1991 First gene therapy trials on humans.

1993 U S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Bovine somatotropin (bST) a metabolic protein hormone used to increase milk production in dairy cows for commercial use. Scientists determined which gene in cattle controls or codes for the production of bST. They removed this gene from cattle and inserted it into a bacterium Escherichia coli. This bacterium produces large amounts of bST in controlled laboratory conditions. The bST produced by the bacteria is purified and then injected into cattle.

1994 Plant IVF (in vitro fertilisation) -- maize (corn).

1994 Marking the start of widespread use of genetically modified crop plants in the USA, the FlavrSavr transgenic tomato is sold in shops.

1995 A transgenic tobacco variety developed producing haemoglobin, a human blood protein.

Bt(Bacillus thuringiensis) Potato was approved safe by the Environmental Protection Agency, making it the first pesticide producing crop to be approved in the USA

Bt corn (corn modified with a bacterium gene to give it insect resistance) goes on the market in the USA.

1995 1996 Roundup Ready Soybeans (soy beans resistant to glyphosate herbicide (Roundup)) introduced in the USA.

1996 The birth of the first cloned animal, Dolly the sheep, was announced.

1996 GM tomato paste approved in the UK, first GM herbicide tolerant soya beans (Roundup Ready Soybeans) and insect protected maize approved in the EU.

1996 Council Directive 90/220/EEC of 23 April 1990 on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms

1997: the cloning of a transgenic lamb (Polly) cloned from cells engineered with a marker gene and a human gene19 was announced. In this way, the genetic modification of a lamb was combined with the techniques of cloning, thereby generating animals that produce a new protein.

1997 EC Novel Foods Regulation (258/97) comes into effect, requiring a safety assessment for novel and GM foods before they go on sale.

1998 'Terminator technology' moved a step closer to the fields: US Patent No. 5,723,765, granted to Delta & Pine Land Co. an American cotton seed company and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on a technique that genetically-disables a seed's capacity to germinate when planted again, meaning that farmers must buy seed supplies every season instead of keeping some of what they had harvested.

April, a UK supermarket chain bans use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in its products; a move which is over the following 18 months is followed by the other UK supermarket chains.

1998 First GM labelling rules introduced to provide consumers with information regarding the use of GM ingredients in food.

1999 September, first publicly reported patient death in a gene therapy trial caused by the gene therapy itself.

May; widespread contamination of the UK oilseed rape crop by GM oilseed rape contaminated seed imported from Canada by Advanta.

2001 22 January: UK Parliament passes a regulation believed to allow the cloning of human embryos for the purposes of research into serious disease. Embryos may be experimented on only up to their 14th day of life.

Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms and repealing Council Directive 90/220/EEC. This contains a so-called ‘safeguard clause' (Art. 23). According to this clause, Member States may provisionally restrict or prohibit the use and/or sale of the GM product on its territory. The Member State must have justifiable reasons to consider that the GMO in question poses a risk to human health or the environment.  Six Member States currently apply safeguard clauses on GMO events: Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Germany and Luxembourg.

2002 Patent law proposed for biotechnology industries to protect their ‘intellectual property.’

2003: Human genome sequenced.

European GMO-free regions Network was established. Ten European Regions signed a joint declaration at the European Parliament to safeguard their agriculture policies (mainly based on support to high quality, traditional and low impact production systems) which can be disrupted by the introduction of GMOs. The Network is based on a political agreement with no binding juridical status.

2004 EC Regulation on GM Food and Feed (EC 1829/2003) and EC Regulation on Traceability and Labelling of GMOs (EC 1830/2003) The EC Regulations became legally binding on 18 April 2004. Regulation 1830/2003 requires labelling of all GM food and feed, which contain or consist of GMOs or are produced from or contain ingredients produced from GMOs regardless of the presence or absence of GM material in the final food or feed product. This is an extension to the previous labelling rules which were only triggered by the demonstrable presence of GM material in the final product.

2005 Principles for the European GMO-free regions were formally laid down in February in Florence during the Network's 3rd Conference with the subscription of a joint document called "Charter of Florence".

2006 A pig was engineered to produce omega-3 fatty acids through the insertion of a roundworm gene

2008 The European Commission authorised the GM maize GA21 for feed and food use and for import and processing. GA21 is not approved for cultivation in the EU.

2010 Amflora was approved for industrial applications in the European Union by the European Commission. Amflora is a genetically modified potato the result of two decades of research efforts. The Amflora potato is selected for its special starch properties used in paper making and adhesives

First published July 2012