Researchers in North Carolina said they’ve found a way to genetically modify tobacco plants to knock out one of the genes that turns nicotine into one of the carcinogens in cured tobacco, the Web site wired.com reported.
The Philip Morris-funded North Carolina State researchers say the work, featured in Plant Biotechnology Journal, could lead to less-carcinogenic chewing tobacco, the Web site reported.
In field trials, researchers compared the levels of N-nitrosonornicotine, a chemical known as NNN, between genetically modified tobacco plants and a control group. They found a six-fold decrease in NNN and a 50-percent drop in a whole class of substances known as tobacco-specific nitrosamines, the Web site reported.
The actual health implications of the study were not fleshed out, and there are still 15-odd carcinogenic substances that are in chewing tobacco, the Web site reported. The researchers also engineered a line of tobacco plants that were born missing the gene that they’d previously learned to knock out, possibly a way to avoid having to label the new crop as “genetically modified,” the report said.
Philip Morris has conducted 33 field trials on genetically engineered tobacco, more than twice as many as any other tobacco company, the Web site reported.