Genetic modification

Some of our gene technology research produces genetically modified products which provide innovative and unique opportunities for Australian agriculture and consumers.

CSIRO research programs use both conventional and genetic modification (GM) approaches, with careful consideration being given to the most appropriate technique, or combination of techniques, to achieve the desired goal.

Our first focus, in line with global practice, is to adopt a conventional breeding approach. GM approaches are used where conventional approaches cannot deliver the required outcome. GM approaches are also often used in the R&D phase to understand the underlying science, which may show how a non-GM solution can be implemented.

All of our research involving gene technology is performed according to Australian legislation for gene technology, including regulations set out by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR). We operate within strict guidelines which ensure the safety of the community and the environment and also ensures rigorous scientific practices are followed.

Projects with genetically modified products

  • Bt cotton: Since we began developing cotton varieties in 1984, using GM technologies, enormous improvements have been made. Australia now has the highest cotton yields in the world, exporting cotton worth $2.5 billion each year. We've reduced Australian growers’ reliance on insecticides and improved their water use efficiency. Currently, more than 95 per cent of the Australian cotton crop is grown from CSIRO bred varieties, which have reduced pesticide use by up to 85 per cent and herbicide use by about 52 per cent.
  • DHA canola: We have developed canola plants which produce high quality oils rich in omega-3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). This nutrient is currently only found in beneficial quantities in ocean-based algae, and the fish that eat it. This product could break the world's reliance on fish stocks while meeting the increasing demand for these healthy long-chain omega-3 oils.
  • SHO Safflower: By engineering safflower to contain 94 per cent oleic acid, we've produced the world’s highest source of oleic acid. This chemical can be used in lubricants, oleochemicals and transformer oil.
  • Leaf oil: We have engineered tobacco plants to have oilseed-like levels of oil in their leaves (around 35 per cent). This product could provide an economically competitive renewable alternative to petroleum diesel.
  • BT cowpeas: We are part of a global project to improve cowpea production in Africa and are making progress towards incorporating ‘built-in’ insect pest protection that could help reduce food shortages in some African regions.
  • Current field trials: Details about our current field trials of genetically modified crops are available on the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator's website .


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