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2-Plants: U.S. reseach project starts to investigate unintendedgene flow



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   "The National Science Foundation has awarded UC Riverside a USD 1.5
    million grant to research the unintended spread of engineered plant 
    genes, an issue at the heart of the controversy over genetically 
    modified foods. [...] UC Riverside's project is unusual because it
    will examine both the natural and the human factors that spread
    transgenes from engineered crops into non-engineered crops and natural 
    populations. 'This hasn't been done before, and I'm excited to get
    started,' said Norman Ellstrand, a professor of genetics who is also
    director of UCR's Biotechnology Impacts Center."
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-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  UC Riverside Earns USD 1.5 Million National Science Foundation
        Grant to Examine How Engineered Crop Genes Stray
SOURCE: University of California Riverside, USA
        http://www.newsroom.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/display.cgi?id=869
DATE:   17 Aug 2004 

------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------


UC Riverside Earns USD 1.5 Million National Science Foundation Grant to
Examine How Engineered Crop Genes Stray
Research to be Done Through UCR's Biotechnology Impacts Center

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (Aug. 16, 2004) - The National Science Foundation has
awarded UC Riverside a USD 1.5 million grant to research the unintended
spread of engineered plant genes, an issue at the heart of the
controversy over genetically modified foods.

That phenomenon was illustrated recently when engineered genes from corn
grown in the United States strayed into remote fields of corn in Mexico.

UC Riverside's project is unusual because it will examine both the
natural and the human factors that spread transgenes from engineered
crops into non-engineered crops and natural populations.

"This hasn't been done before, and I'm excited to get started," said
Norman Ellstrand, a professor of genetics who is also director of UCR's
Biotechnology Impacts Center. "Our project involves social scientists
with diverse expertise ranging from international trade to farmers'
decision making in genuine collaboration with biological scientists who
study gene transfer and the evolution of invasive species."

The project, which begins Sept. 1, will assemble faculty and graduate
students from botany and plant sciences, economics, sociology, and
statistics into three multidisciplinary teams.

- One group will focus on natural processes that affect dispersal of
genes such as wind, timing of plant flowering, or proximity to compatible
wild relatives.

- A second team will focus on human elements, including farmer management
and transport of seed through local and international trade.

- The third team will employ state-of-the-art mathematical and
computational modeling to estimate the timing and patterns of the spread
of transgenes across space and national borders as well as their
ecological consequences. The result will be the first global model of
gene flow that accounts for both human and natural processes of gene
dispersal.

 "This is really very exciting," said Richard Sutch, a distinguished
professor of economics and associate director of the Biotechnology
Impacts Center. "Everyone talks about the value of interdisciplinary
research and of collaboration between the sciences, but this is one of
the few projects that takes this seriously. And this is such an important
topic. Food is a part of everyone's life, an important expression of
one's culture. It is not surprising then that there is a raging debate
about genetic engineering that goes beyond the issues of biological science."

A third co-investigator, Bai-Lian (Larry) Li, is a mathematical and
theoretical ecologist who is an associate professor of ecology. "The
coupling of natural and human systems adds an additional layer of
complexity of interactions," said Li, the founding editor of the
international journal Ecological Complexity http://www.elsevier.com/
locate/ecocom). "Understanding must come from the examination of how the
two systems operate together."

Sutch added that an understanding of the subject could provide
information for important public policy decisions. "We may be able to
find ways to control the unintended migration of transgenes and thereby
harness the benefits of this new technology," Sutch said. "Alternatively,
we may discover that the risk cannot be reduced to acceptable levels for
certain combinations of crops and genes."

 Steven Angle, dean of the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences,
stressed the role of UCR's Biotechnology Impacts Center as "an honest
broker" in this debate. "The scientists conducting this research have no
stake in the policy outcomes," Angle said. They hold no patents on
genetically modified plants. The study will provide solid scientific
input to inform the public and the policy makers at national and
international levels."

 Joel Martin, the interim dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and the
Social Sciences, said he likes the project's inclusion of several
graduate students who will be intimately involved in the
multidisciplinary meetings of the group, including at least one
international conference in Mexico. "It is rare for graduate students to
have an opportunity to participate in a multidisciplinary international
research project such as this," said Martin.

 The topic of transgene flow is a part of the greater public discussion
of genetic engineering and the world's food supply. Biotechnology has the
potential of increasing crop yields, lowering production costs, and
offering consumers more choices and higher quality at the supermarket.
But certain risks have been identified, such as the evolution of new
weeds because of contamination with transgenes that make them more
difficult to control.

"Recalling genes is more difficult than recalling defective car parts or
contaminated meat," said Ellstrand. "Because genes have the opportunity
to multiply themselves. We have to find out how to avoid the problem
before it happens."


Contacts at University of California, Riverside
Norman Ellstrand, Lead Principal Investigator Biocomplexity Project
Professor of Genetics Director, Biotechnology Impacts Center
+1-909-787-4194
norman.ellstrand@ucr.edu

Richard Sutch, Co-Principal Investigator Biocomplexity Project
Distinguished Professor of Economics
Associate Director, Biotechnology Impacts Center
+1-909-778-9096
richard.sutch@ucr.edu

Bai-Lian (Larry) Li, Co-Principal Investigator Biocomplexity Project
Professor of Ecology, Botany, and Plant Sciences
+1-909-787-4776
bai-lian.li@ucr.edu

Contacts at National Science Foundation

Thomas Baerwald
Coordinator for Environmental Social and Behavioral Science Activities
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences
+1-703/292-7301
tbaerwal@nsf.gov

BIOTECHNOLOGY IMPACTS CENTE
University of California, Riverside

Background: As a consequence of the genomics revolution, the creation of
new scientific knowledge is occurring at a remarkably fast rate. For wise
stewardship of the technologies resulting from this revolution, it is
imperative for society to assess the possible outcomes, both positive and
negative, of these scientific advances. As decisions are made about the
applications of biotechnologies to agriculture, medicine and the
environment, policy makers and members of the public need to be armed
with sound, science-based information.

Biotechnology holds great promise. The potential of genetically modified
organisms to increase agricultural productivity offers hope for feeding
the Earth's growing population and raising nutritional intake among those
currently impoverished, as well as potential for improvements in health
and the ability to cure and prevent diseases. But, at the beginning of
every revolution there are concerns that spring from the uncertainty
inherent in any dramatic change.

 One of history's big lessons is that everything in a dynamic world is
interrelated, often in complex ways that are not fully perceived in quiet
times but are dramatically (sometimes tragically) revealed when the
system is disturbed by a sufficiently large shock. It is not surprising
then that, despite the promise of agricultural biotechnology to provide
plentiful, more nutritious and environmentally sustainable food,
thoughtful people have raised serious concerns.

 Toward a Solution: The Biotechnology Impacts Center (BIC) is an academic
research unit associated with the Institute for Integrative Genome
Biology at the University of California, Riverside, with a mission to
promote research and education on all aspects of the social, economic,
political, environmental, and ethical consequences of the biotechnology
revolution. Established in 2001, BIC serves as a forum to identify the
relevant policy issues, to act as a clearinghouse for credible
information, and to initiate research that addresses the impacts of
biotechnology. The result will be an informed dialog among public
interest groups, the biotechnology industry, academics, elected
officials, and policy makers.

BIC also has an important educational mission to disseminate knowledge
and address concerns about new and emerging developments in
biotechnology. At both the graduate and undergraduate levels, courses
will be available in public policy related to such issues as bioethics,
scientific responsibility, and the controversy surrounding genetically
modified organisms. The Center hopes to provide modest financial and
academic support to graduate students in the humanities, the social
sciences, and the life sciences and seeks to encourage and enrich faculty
mentoring of graduate students. BIC also encourages the creation of
hands-on research opportunities for undergraduate students. Finally, the
Center offers a wide variety of additional support services to faculty,
students, and the general public. These include a visiting speakers'
forum, a seminar program, a web-based working paper series to disseminate
pre-publication findings of ongoing research projects, and conference support.

Leadership: BIC has a dual reporting relationship to both the UCR
Institute for Integrative Genome Biology and the UCR Center for Social
and Economic Policy. This arrangement serves to keep the Center at an
objective distance from the scientific research conducted by the
Institute and to recognize the meaningful contribution that social
scientists, humanists, business experts, educators, and others can make
to inform the responsible use of biotechnology in society.



 Related Links:
UC Riverside Biotechnology Impacts Center
The University of California, Riverside is a major research institution
and a national center for the humanities. Key areas of research include
nanotechnology, genomics, environmental studies, digital arts and
sustainable growth and development. With a current undergraduate and
graduate enrollment of nearly 17,000, the campus is projected to grow to
21,000 students by 2010. Located in the heart of inland Southern
California, the nearly 1,200-acre, park-like campus is at the center of
the region's economic development. Visit www.ucr.edu or call 909-787-5185
for more information. Media sources are available at http://
www.mediasources.ucr.edu/

News Media Contact:
Name: Kris Lovekin
Phone: +1-951.827.2495
Email: kris.lovekin@ucr.edu




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