Experimental testing, especially in open field trials, is a critical step in the development of new plant varieties, whether these are produced by conventional breeding methods or through modern genetic techniques. Exposing new lines or plants with new traits to the natural environment in the field is essential to research, development, characterization, and eventual recommendation of new varieties for the use and benefit of farmers and society.
When plants have traits introduced by modern genetic techniques such as recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology, they are called ‘genetically modified’ (GM), ‘genetically engineered’ (GE), or ‘living modified organisms’ (LMOs). The testing of these types of plants is regulated by government agencies, which oversee their evaluation and must give their approval on a case-by-case basis before a new GE variety may be placed on the market in a general or unrestricted release.
Because GE plants are regulated by the government, research on experimental lines or varieties prior to their approval for release is conducted under controlled conditions, either in a laboratory or
glasshouse (‘contained’ testing), or in a restricted area outdoors, which is called a ‘confined field trial’ (CFT).
CFTs are used to determine whether a new genetic trait is effective in the local environment, to select those lines with the best characteristics for further testing, to eliminate lines that do not have desired characteristics, to backcross the desired trait into varieties of local interest, to gather data or plant material required for environmental impact and food safety assessment to be used in applying for general release, and to scale-up plant material for introduction prior to approval for general release.
A Confined Field Trial has several key characteristics: