The Papaya plant may seem exotic to most mainlanders, but it is actually a very important fruit grown in the islands of Hawaii. While a large part of agricultural life on the island, Hawaiians faced a growing threat to their livelihood in the form of a devastating virus known as Papaya Ringspot Virus. Gmocompass describes the effects of prv in its article “Papayas” as stunting to the trees, causing them to take on an unhealthy, naked look as they are shorter than regular papaya trees and have less leaves covering their tops (2016).
The process undertaken to protect the papaya trees is highly reminiscent of the way immunities are developed in humans through vaccinations. The article describes how certain types of viral proteins are inserted into the genes of the papayas which causes the papaya to fight back and develop a more powerful immune response to the viruses of that type. This results in the papaya plants getting total protection from the papaya ringspot virus, as they are better equipped to fight off the affliction with their genes. This development has allowed cultivators in Hawaii to plant the gm papayas in widespread locations and have them thrive even while prv is running rampant around their crops. There are actually pictures of natural and modified papaya trees planted parallel to each other, showing how the prv in the area is devastating the natural trees, while the modified papaya trees are as strong and healthy as if there were no viruses around whatsoever.
The modified papayas first appeared in 1999 but have over time become the dominant form of papaya grown in Hawaii. The total cultivated space covers 3/4ths the entire papaya crop area with little sign of the adoption rates changing. As far as world acceptance, there is growing research and development into the process used to combat the papaya ringspot virus by other Asian countries who want to alter the crop themselves to combat the viral strains it would face being grown in their local areas. Both the United States and Canada have approved the consumption of GM papaya in their territories and serve as the largest customers of the crop.
Meanwhile, the European Union has not approved the consumption or import of gm papaya, and because there have been no proposals to the EU for approval, it may be a while before their status gets reviewed. For now, it is illegal to import and market the modified papayas in any of the member states of the EU.
While many genetic modifications of plants tend to increase resistance to herbicide and pesticide use, and maintain the aesthetic appeal of the crop by eliminating brown spots from bruising and cutting, the modification of papayas presents a unique appeal of modification that cannot as of yet be managed by anything else. There are no pills or medicines that can be given to plants that are already sick, and so genetic modifications of the plant so as to provide it a defense against debilitating pathogens have proved to be one of the best ways to preserve yields and growth of successful fields. However, for many people the dangers of genetic modification still outweighs the benefits of it, and even the rarity of overcoming the problem through other means still doesn’t provide enough of a justification to promote the acceptance and use of gm plants. For the papaya there are hopeful signs with the widespread adoption already seen in North America, but the approval of the EU on using the crop will be integral to seeing a more widespread acceptance of what the technology offers.
Source: Gmocompass. (2016). Papayas. Gmo-compass.