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DNA labelling of varieties covered by patent protection: a new solution for managing intellectual property rights in the seed industry


Plant breeders’ rights are undergoing dramatic changes due to changes in patent rights in terms of plant variety rights protection. Although differences in the interpretation of »breeder’s exemption«, termed research exemption in the 1991 UPOV, did exist in the past in some countries, allowing breeders to use protected varieties as parents in the creation of new varieties of plants, current developments brought about by patenting conventionally bred varieties with the European Patent Office (such as EP2140023B1) have opened new challenges. Legal restrictions on germplasm availability are therefore imposed on breeders while, at the same time, no practical information on how to distinguish protected from non-protected varieties is given. We propose here a novel approach that would solve this problem by the insertion of short DNA stretches (labels) into protected plant varieties by genetic transformation. This information will then be available to breeders by a simple and standardized procedure. We propose that such a procedure should consist of using a pair of universal primers that will generate a sequence in a PCR reaction, which can be read and translated into ordinary text by a computer application. To demonstrate the feasibility of such approach, we conducted a case study. Using the Agrobacterium tumefaciens transformation protocol, we inserted a stretch of DNA code into Nicotiana benthamiana. We also developed an on-line application that enables coding of any text message into DNA nucleotide code and, on sequencing, decoding it back into text. In the presented case study, a short command line coding the phrase »Hello world« was transformed into a DNA sequence that was inserted in the plant genome. The encoded message was reconstructed from the resulting T1 seedlings with 100 % accuracy. The feasibility and possible other applications of this approach are discussed.

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This work was supported by research Grant P4-0077 (Genetics and modern technologies of agricultural plants) from the Slovenian Research Agency.

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Correspondence to Borut Bohanec.

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Fister, K., Fister, I., Murovec, J. et al. DNA labelling of varieties covered by patent protection: a new solution for managing intellectual property rights in the seed industry. Transgenic Res 26, 87–95 (2017).

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