Friday, August 11, 2006

GM plant escapes into wild

For the first time in the US a genetically modified plant has escaped into the wild. Even worse it has done it before securing USDA approval. The plant, creeping bentgrass, Agrostis stolonifera, had been modified to make it impervious to the herbicide glysophate and was designed for golf courses and homeowners. Lawn owners would be able to spray lawns to kill off weeds without damaging the grass.

As far as I can tell not a single US media source has picked up on this story. You can read about it in an Australian newspaper and a British Science magazine and, well, that's it.

Although only nine escaped plants have been identified (out of 20,400 plants of various grass varieties sampled) one of the escapees was found over 3.5 kilometers away from where the grass was being grown.

In this case the weedkiller-resistance gene is unlikely to be a particular advantage for this plant in the wild but this discovery doesn't bode well for our ability to contain other genetically moderated crops.

On the more worrying side bentgrass has many close relatives with which it can potentially hybridize. This could add glyphosate-resistance genes to other grass species, some of which are noxious weeds.



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