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<nettime> GM Crops Not Necessarily Threat to Environment
Ryan Griffis on Sat, 31 May 2003 23:21:13 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> GM Crops Not Necessarily Threat to Environment

Or: How Sunflowers Can Be Used As Umbrellas
This reeks like the "debate" over global warming. is
there still real doubt over the migration of genetic
material? and are we worried about the "purity" of
sunflowers? Keeping the argument focused on "science"
and "Nature" seems to be working for the industry.
Of course, no mention of the legal and economic
attacks on farmers by pro-GMO interests...

GM Crops Not Necessarily Threat to Environment
(from bio.com)
5/22/2003 -- As concerns rise about the ecological
impacts of genetically modified crops, a new Indiana
University study urges a pragmatic approach to dealing
with "transgenes" that escape from crop plants into
the wild. Use of transgenic crops is becoming more
common as farmers reap benefits from the plants'
decreased susceptibility to disease and increased
marketplace value.

IU biologist Loren Rieseberg and former postdoctoral
fellow John Burke (now at Vanderbilt University)
reported in the May 23 issue of Science that a wheat
transgene synthetically inserted into sunflowers has
little or no effect on crop sunflowers' wild relatives
and is not likely to impact the environment.

"We found that a certain transgene that gives crop
sunflowers resistance to white mold is unlikely to
spread rapidly to the wild because the transgene
doesn't affect the seed-producing abilities of wild
sunflowers in nature," said Rieseberg, who led the
study. "We need to examine each transgene and crop on
a case-by-case basis. Some transgenes will have major
ecological impacts and others probably won't."

For example, another study co-authored by Rieseberg,
published last month in Ecological Applications,
showed that a bacterial transgene inserted into
sunflowers significantly increases seed production of
wild sunflowers and therefore may incur ecological

A common worry about genetically modified (GM) crops
is that new, highly advantageous genes will seep
through wild populations as crop plants mingle and
reproduce with their wild cousins.

While the new report by Rieseberg and Burke does not
refute that worry, the researchers believe that the
movement of certain genes from GM crops into the wild
may occur at a glacial pace, meaning wild plants in
locations far from their alter egos in farm crops will
not encounter the transgenes for a long time.

"The question isn't whether these transgenes will
escape into wild relatives -- we know they will,"
Rieseberg said. "Even if the wild hybrids are
partially sterile or inviable, genes will still move
across the farm property barrier. So it's really the
fitness effects of a gene that dictate the speed at
which it spreads. Genes that aren't advantageous to
the wild plants will spread very slowly. The
transgenes that are truly deleterious to wild species
won't move much at all."

The scientists introduced a wheat gene for the white
mold-combating enzyme oxalate oxidase (OxOx) to wild
sunflowers and compared wild plants with and without
the transgene at natural study sites in California,
North Dakota and Indiana. Half of the plants in each
group were inoculated with white mold. At the end of
the study period, Rieseberg and Burke counted the
number of seeds produced by each plant. The
researchers found that the OxOx transgene had no
appreciable effect on the wild plants' ability to
produce seeds. Wild plants lacking the transgene made
just as many seeds as plants with the transgene.
Rieseberg and Burke also found that the OxOx transgene
did not harm any of the sunflowers that possessed it
when they were not exposed to the disease.

White mold infection has plagued sunflower farmers for
years. Attempts at breeding natural resistance in the
economically important plant have generally failed.
Fungicides are costly and ineffective, and they may
carry health consequences for consumers. The
introduction of the OxOx gene to sunflower crops may
help reduce their susceptibility to mold.

"Fitness Effects of Transgenic Disease Resistance in
Sunflowers," Science, vol. 300, no. 5623

Source: Indiana University 

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