It is difficult to determine in general what degree of genetic relation and phenotypic similarity is required between supposedly derived and original varieties because the degree in which different crops are related varies. 'As Dümmen Orange we are fully committed to the EDV regulation and we recognise EDVs that are not a result of crossing (hybrids), but that are derived from a single variety. This is a good way to protect plant breeders’ rights for that variety. It would be useful if a method could be developed to prove irrefutably whether a variety is an EDV or not,' declares Biense Visser, CEO of Dümmen Orange. The company wants to take the initiative with other leading players in the ornamental horticultural sector to find a scientifically supported method for determining EDVs.

Genetic relatedness

DNA analysis is an important tool for proving genetic relatedness. One of the techniques used is AFLP (amplified fragment length polymorphism) DNA fingerprinting, which is used to determine whether selected parts from the genomes of two plants, for instance, have a corresponding DNA pattern. The degree of resemblance between samples can be reproduced through a similarity coefficient such as the Jaccard index. The closer the score is to 1.00, the closer the genetic relatedness. CIOPORA, the international association of breeders of vegetatively reproduced ornamental and fruit plant varieties, states that it is difficult to prepare separate protocols for the many ornamental varieties and a genetic similarity of 0.90 Jaccard was introduced as a general limit (2008). If an alleged EDV falls above the threshold compared to the variety protected by plant breeders' rights, the burden of proof is reversed if a dispute should arise. Plantum, an association for companies operating in the starting material sector, has been critical of the proposed general threshold of 0.90 Jaccard. 'We believe an EDV exists when the presumed derivative plant looks more like the original variety than would normally be expected, based on variation within that species. In one crop differences may be greater than in another. Genetic similarity is important, but it is also about the phenotype,' says Judith de Roos, lawyer at Plantum.

Baby's breath EDV dispute

In general little is known about the genetic variability of ornamental crops. This also applies to baby's breath (Gypsophila) where multiple issues are and were involved concerning alleged EDVs and discussions around research protocol to prove that issue. Dümmen Orange has been accused by Danziger of having introduced an EDV derived from one of their baby's breath varieties. The Israeli company Danziger has established that the variety Vivo is a mutant of their Million Stars. 'Vivo is a hybrid product derived from, among others, Danziger's varieties and it can therefore not be considered to be an EDV (mutant). Danziger wants to prove, through AFLP methods, that Vivo is a mutant of Million Stars by means of the CIOPORA protocol. We seriously doubt whether the method applied is suitable for resolving such an EDV determination,' Visser says. 'If there is a mutation – via spontaneous occurrence or induction - and the derived variety is based 100% on the initial variety, then it’s a question of an EDV. There is no technique available, however, with a margin of error of less than one mutation in the genome. Technically it is therefore not possible to positively confirm an EDV,' states Hans van den Heuvel, Managing Director R&D at Dümmen Orange.

Dümmen Orange is having an AFLP study conducted by Naktuinbouw, the Dutch Inspection Service for Horticulture, to confirm that the CIOPORA protocol is insufficient and to propose a test method that would lead to a scientific assessment of the Jaccard index limit per crop that is independent from the selected DNA detection technology. 'We are convinced that the CIOPORA protocol leads to idiopathic (falsely accused) EDVs. We have always and we will continue to respect intellectual property rights and contracts, but we will not accept, nor support findings based on non-scientifically accepted test methods,' Visser emphasises.


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