Escaped Golf Course Grass Frees Gene Genie

Author: Andy Coghlan
New Scientist . (Source)

A genetically modified form of a grass is worrying the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) enough that it is running its first full environmental impact assessment of a GM plant.

A nondescript grass discovered in the Oregon countryside is hardly an alien invasion. Yet the plant - a genetically modified form of a grass commonly grown on golf courses - is worrying the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) enough that it is running its first full environmental impact assessment of a GM plant.

It is the first time a GM plant has escaped into the wild in the US, and it has managed it before securing USDA approval. The plant, creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera, carries a bacterial gene that makes it immune to the potent herbicide glyphosate, better known as Roundup. The manufacturer, The Scotts Company, Marysville, Ohio, is hoping the grass will provide a turf that makes it easier for golf course owners to manage their fairways and greens by letting them kill competing weedy grasses with glyphosate.

Jay Reichman and colleagues at the US Environmental Protection Agency's labs in Corvallis, Oregon, identified nine escapees out of 20,400 plants of various grass varieties sampled within a 4.8-kilometre radius of the site where the bentgrass is being cultivated, the most distant 3.8 kilometres away. The team showed that the GM grass has spread both by pollinating non-GM plants to form hybrids, and by seed movement.

Bentgrass is a perennial, so once out there it regrows year after year, whereas most GM crops - mainly soybeans, maize and canola (oilseed rape) - are annuals, unable to reproduce, harvested each year and replaced with an entirely new crop the next. Another worry is that unlike the other GM crops, bentgrass has many relatives in the US with which it can cross-breed or hybridise, potentially passing on the glyphosate-resistance gene to other species - with unpredictable results.

"It's a cautionary tale of what could happen with other GM plants that could be of greater concern," says Reichman. "I suspect that more examples of this will show up." His report will appear in the October issue of Molecular Ecology.

If bentgrass is approved by the USDA, it could prove a hit with the thousands of golf course managers throughout the US, making it easy for the crop to spread far and wide. If it reaches environmentally sensitive wildernesses or establishes itself by waterways, removing it could require weedkillers far more harmful than the relatively benign glyphosate.

"It's definitely a new set of variables we've not had to deal with in previous GM crops," says Eric Baack of Indiana University in Bloomington, who comments on Reichman's findings in Current Biology (vol 16, p R1). Still, it isn't clear whether the gene would have much impact in the wild. "You wouldn't expect the weedkiller-resistance gene to be a particular advantage in the wild," says Baack. Also, the USDA doesn't class conventional bentgrass as a "noxious" weed.

There is however the possibility of litigation if the GM grass contaminates other elite grass strains under cultivation. Some 70 per cent of the US's commercial grass seed is grown in Oregon, so there is the potential for accidental adulteration.

The USDA is not taking any chances. "This is a perennial, and has wild and weedy relatives, and it's something we think we need to know the environmental impact of before it's deregulated," says a spokeswoman for the USDA's Biotechnology Regulatory Services in Riverdale, Maryland. "There's no current set date for when [the environmental impact assessment] will be finished," she says.

Whether the US public takes any notice of the furore is another question entirely. "I don't think people will worry about lawns and golf courses if they've not shown any worries already about GM food," says Baack.

From issue 2564 of New Scientist magazine, 09 August 2006, page 9

(all) (au) (br) (cn) (eu) (id) (in) (jp) (nz) (uk) (us) (ww) (za) (zm)

(all) () () () () () () () () () () () () () () () () () () () () () () () () () () () () ().

Top Australian Chefs Unite Against GM Food

Seeds of Discontent

GM Moratorium Lifted in Two Australian States

Genetically Modified Hens Containing Human Genes Lay Cancer Fighting Eggs

Tony Blair Choses Organic Over GM Farming

Escaped Golf Course Grass Frees Gene Genie

Revealed: Health Fears Over Secret Study Into GM Food

Aussies Accused of Double Standards Regarding GM Food Labelling Because of USA

Australian Scientists Develop Enhanced Crops To Feed The Poor Using Traditional Selective Breeding

Bio What? First Comprehensive Public Perception Study of Biotechnology in South Africa

The Zambia Experiment - GM vs Organic

Brazil Says 'Yes' to GM Crops and Stem Cell Research

Biowatch Court Victory to Reveal GM Crops in South Africa

South Africa's Stance on GM Foods

Japan Urges Western Australia to Say No to GMO

Monsanto Agrees To $1.5m GM Crop Bribe Penalty In Indonesia

Australia's GM Free Status a Polite Fiction

Genetically Modified Food Is Heading For Your Fridge

Genetically Engineered Salmon More Aggressive

The Gene Revolution: Great Potential for the Poor - But no Panacea

Farming Is Not Like Any Old Business

Monsanto Shelves Its Global Plan for Genetically Modified Wheat

Biotech Foods Keep Coming Despite Monsanto Setback

NSW Rules Out GM Canola Trial

Billboards Milk The GM Debate

The GM Nation Report Findings Of The National Debate Is Published

Brussels Rejects Bid For Ban On GM Crops In Austria

Little Economic Benefit From GM Crops

The European Union Stance On GMO and WTO

EU Ratifies UN Protocol For Genetically Modified Food

USWTO Case Against EU On GM Is Misguided

Blair Faces Huge Resistance To His Support For GM Crops

Australian State Of NSW Bans Production Of GM Food Until 2006

Insects Thrive on GM Crops

The Fear Of Food - The World Rejects America

Australian Shoppers Prompt Crackdown On GM Food

Can Beggars Be Choosers

Ousted Scientist and the Damning Research into Food Safety

HOMEhome pageCERTIFYcertification bodies and logosNEWSthe organic newslineNORANational Organic Registry AustraliaPEOPLEpioneers, supporters, membersBOOKSbooksGLOSSARYdefinitions of various termsADDITIVESadditives and linksPESTICIDESthe dirty dozenGMOgenetically modified organismsWHYwhy organic ?ABOUTconstitution, financial, incorporationCONTACTcontact detailsTRANSLATEtranslationsSEARCHsearch results
? 2009 Organic Ltd (ACN 102 995 344).
RSS Feed Atom Feed RSS Feed