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Nature Biotechnology on Environmental Impact Of GM Crops

11 Jun 2002 05:04 GMT
‘No compelling scientific arguments that GM crops are innately different from non-GM crops" says UK ‘s John Innes Centre
The June 2002 issue of Nature Biotech confronts the issue of the impact on the environment of GM crops. In three papers and the leader it recognises that although an acreage the size of Spain has been planted with GM crops without serious fallout, nevertheless public fears are only going to be allayed if the agbio industry comes up with new methods to improve containment.
The potential transfer of genes from one crop to another is either via pollen or seed. Unless the wild or other plants growing near a GM field are close relations, transfer is unlikely. So sunflowers, squash, radish and their wild relations tend to grow in similar locations and so there is a high ‘potential for mating’. But maize, cotton, soybean and potato have no wild or weedy relatives to mate with.
Nevertheless there are at least 44 cultivated plant species around the globe that do have close kin. In Canada GM material has been found in organically grown canola thereby disqualifying it for sale as organic.
In the paper looking at molecular strategies for gene containment, several methods are available including the terminator technology (seed sterility) and one, male sterility, is already commercially used in 10 per cent of Canadian GM rape seed and is cleared for use in Europe.
The other options are to remove selectable marker genes as soon as their initial purpose has been served in enabling plants to be identified as transgenic. A relatively new method for achieving this, site-specific recombinase systems could be used singly or alongside another method that would actually improve GM husbandry.