Taking the Cancer Out of ‘Cancer Sticks’

Wired Science reports that Phillip Morris is using both genetic engineering and conventional breeding techniques in an attempt to eliminate carcinogens from tobacco.

Scientists have genetically modified tobacco plants to knock-out a gene that helps turns nicotine into one of the carcinogens in cured tobacco.

The Philip Morris funded North Carolina State researchers say the work could lead to less cancer-causing chewing tobacco. In large scale field trials, they compared the levels of N-nitrosonornicotine, a chemical known as NNN, between GM tobacco plants and a control group. They found a six-fold decrease in NNN and a 50 percent overall drop in a whole class of nasty substances known as tobacco-specific nitrosamines.


Not oblivious to consumer opposition to many genetically modified crops, the researchers then created a line of tobacco plants missing the same gene they’d previously knocked-out through conventional breeding techniques. They are currently trying to introduce that mutation into commercial tobacco lines, presumably avoiding a genetically modified organism label.

Right now they’ve basically only been successful in eliminating some carcinogens, but it would be pretty cool if they could get rid of it all.

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. hln says:

    While they’re at it, perhaps they can get rid of the smoke, too.

    Then cigarettes would be just fine.


  2. Clovis says:

    Posted by hln | March 20, 2008 | 10:32 am

    Yup, right after they make patchouli that doesn’t stink, colognes that don’t reek, cars with no exhaust and car stereos that don’t rattle windows.

    If you don’t like smokers just for the smoke, that is. I’m certain it’s not some moral discrimination you have, or a way to feel better than others.

    Or you could try to avoid things you don’t like.