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Italy: CRA-ACM researches reply to accusations on use of Ruby gene

After an open letter sent to regional agriculture councillor Dario Cartabellotta by Mimmo Fontana, chairman of Legambiente Sicilia, and Alfredo Tamburino, coordinator of the Agriculture Department of Legambiente Sicilia, asking for a clarification on a study carried out by researchers of the CRA-ACM, the researchers decided to reply via FreshPlaza.

Giuseppe Reforgiato Recupero and Concetta Licciardello wrote: "The aim of this note is to challenge some of the news that has appeared online as regards to the use of the "Ruby" gene for the production of genetically modified (GMO) pigmented oranges."

Thanks to the funds of a European project carried out in conjunction with the English and Chinese, CRA-ACM researches have contributed to the identification of the "Ruby" gene, which is responsible for the anthocyanin synthesis in blood oranges.

"This study is very important on an international level, and various articles were also published in some leading scientific magazines."

Currently, the "Ruby" gene, but mostly its "switch", is used as a genetic marker, i.e. as a screening to verify the presence of red pigments in oranges and hybrids at an early stage. This procedure is an integral part of traditional genetic improvement, that is to say the non-biotech one (non-GMO).

"We would therefore like to reiterate that the "Ruby" sequence was published on a free-access international database. CRA-ACM researchers are not bound by any intellectual property or patented right, like some of the news online falsely reported."

"After having published the sequence, anyone can use it and the gene can also be used for the production of GMO plants. If third parties choose to do so, CRA-ACM researchers (in the photo) cannot be held responsible for it. In fact, the patent did not concern the "Ruby" gene, but rather the method for the increase of the anthocyanin contents, which has nothing to do with CRA-ACM researchers."

"Furthermore, thinking that Sicily could hold the monopoly on pigmented oranges is ludicrous. The soil and climate conditions in Sicily are by no means unique. There are other countries such as China, Australia, South Africa, California and Spain which have the ideal conditions for the production of non-GMO pigmented oranges. In fact, these areas have recently introduced some plants of pigmented oranges that are attracting quite a lot of interest."

"Nowadays, because of globalisation, the only way to maintain a leading position is to rely on high quality rather than using custom barriers. In the case of Italian wine, oil and Parmesan cheese is a great example," conclude the researchers.

For further information:
Giuseppe Reforgiato Recupero
C.R.A.-A.C.M. Centro di Ricerca per l'Agrumicoltura e le Colture Mediterranee
Corso Savoia, 190
95024 Acireale (CT) - Italy
Tel.: +39 0957653120
Fax: +39 0957653113

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