Characterising microbial protein test substances and establishing their equivalence with plant-produced proteins for use in risk assessments of transgenic crops

Transgenic Res. 2013 Apr;22(2):445-60. doi: 10.1007/s11248-012-9658-3. Epub 2012 Oct 12.


Most commercial transgenic crops are genetically engineered to produce new proteins. Studies to assess the risks to human and animal health, and to the environment, from the use of these crops require grams of the transgenic proteins. It is often extremely difficult to produce sufficient purified transgenic protein from the crop. Nevertheless, ample protein of acceptable purity may be produced by over-expressing the protein in microbes such as Escherichia coli. When using microbial proteins in a study for risk assessment, it is essential that their suitability as surrogates for the plant-produced transgenic proteins is established; that is, the proteins are equivalent for the purposes of the study. Equivalence does not imply that the plant and microbial proteins are identical, but that the microbial protein is sufficiently similar biochemically and functionally to the plant protein such that studies using the microbial protein provide reliable information for risk assessment of the transgenic crop. Equivalence is a judgement based on a weight of evidence from comparisons of relevant properties of the microbial and plant proteins, including activity, molecular weight, amino acid sequence, glycosylation and immuno-reactivity. We describe a typical set of methods used to compare proteins in regulatory risk assessments for transgenic crops, and discuss how risk assessors may use comparisons of proteins to judge equivalence.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Crops, Agricultural / genetics
  • Crops, Agricultural / toxicity
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Plant Proteins / adverse effects
  • Plant Proteins / genetics*
  • Plant Proteins / toxicity*
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / adverse effects
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / genetics
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / toxicity*
  • Risk Assessment


  • Plant Proteins