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2-Plants: British scientists discovered first wild GE-hybrids

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TITLE:  Rogue genes cross to weeds
SOURCE: Independent, UK, by Marie Woolf
DATE:   April 18, 1999

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Rogue genes cross to weeds

Scientists have discovered the first genetically modified superweeds in Britain, following the spread of pollen from a GM trial crop to wild turnip plants. The hybrids were produced after plants in a field of wild turnip crossed with a nearby test-site of genetically engineered oilseed rape. Some of the "Frankenstein" plants, which had inherited their GM parent's herbicide resistance genes, were able to breed. The discovery has been seized on by environmentalists as "groundbreaking" because it proves for the first time that GM crops can pass on their engineered traits to indigenous British species growing nearby.

"This is the first field evidence of the spread of weedkiller-resistant genes to wild relatives," said Pete Riley, food and biotechnology campaigner for Friends of the Earth. "The Government should act quickly as the French have done to ban the planting of crops with wild relatives to prevent cross-breeding."

The find was made by the scientists employed by the Government to monitor GM test crops at a field-scale trial site in Cambridgeshire. The scientists from the National Institute of Agricultural Botany found that although the parent plants were indigenous wild turnips, the smaller plants looks more like "hairy oilseed rape plants". Seeds from the plants produced turnip-GM-rape hybrids, some of which, when sprayed by the scientists, proved to be resistant to weedkiller. Some of the hybrid plants were sterile, but about half were able to breed and pass on their GM traits. The institute now intends to do more extensive trials to discover the rate that transgenic oilseed rape can create hybrid GM "oilseed-turnips".

Wild turnips are regarded as weeds by many farmers and grow naturally in and around oilseed rape plots. NIAB believes that the incidences of cross-breeding between such weeds will be very small but it has warned that the imminent farm-scale trials involving GM crops would increase the likelihood of hybridisation occurring. "We had a plot of turnips growing alongside the oilseed rape four metres apart,' said a spokesman for NIAB. "We took seed from the wild turnips and found that pollen had dispersed from the neighbouring oilseed rape.The larger the release the more pollen is produced and the greater the likelihood that more hybridisation can occur." English Nature, the Government's official wildlife adviser, says the discovery proves its predictions that planting GM crops will lead to the creation of new hybrid varieties. 


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