Study suggests GM traits could be common in the wild

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Genetically modified organism, Agriculture

Scientists have found evidence that genetically modified (GM) crops could be prevalent in the wild, according to new research presented to the Ecological Society of America last week.

Anti-GM groups have argued that the long term impact of genetically modified crops on the environment, human and animal health is not well known, and may not be for decades. And organic advocates have also argued that cross-contamination of organic crops with GM material could devastate their industry. This new study is likely to fuel these concerns, as the researchers claim that it is the first to suggest that GM plants are well-established in the wild in the United States.

The researchers established transects across 5,400km of land in North Dakota, and tested 406 wild canola plants along interstate, state and county roads for the presence of GM material. They found that 347 – or 86 percent – contained proteins that confer tolerance either to glyphosate herbicide, or to glufosinate herbicide. And they also found some evidence of multiple transgenic traits.

GM canola accounts for the majority of canola grown in North Dakota and the plants are thought to spread easily as seeds are windborne or fall from trucks.

The researchers presented their findings at the Ecological Society of America’s 95th annual meeting in Pittsburgh on Friday.

One of the study’s coauthors, Cynthia Sagers, of the University of Arkansas said: “There were also two instances of multiple transgenes in single individuals. Varieties with multiple transgenic traits have not yet been released commercially, so this finding suggests that feral populations are reproducing and have become established outside of cultivation.

“These observations have important implications for the ecology and management of native and weedy species, as well as for the management of biotech products in the US.”

The poster session, entitled “Evidence for the establishment and persistence of genetically modified canola populations in the US”,​ was presented by lead researcher Meredith Schafer.

Related topics: The GM debate, R&D

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