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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924


October, 2004

 

Wind Carries GM Pollen Record Distances
Wildland Invasion Feared
By New Scientist
   Pollen from a genetically modified grass has blown on the wind and pollinated other grasses up to 21 kilometres away, says a new study. This distance is "much further than previously measured", say the authors, and is thought to be a record for any GM pollen.
   The discovery comes as regulators decide whether to allow the planting of the GM creeping bentgrass on golf course putting greens across the
US.
   Scientists from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) focused on fields that have been growing GM varieties of creeping bentgrass near
Madras in central Oregon, US, for two years. The experimental grasses are genetically modified to resist popular herbicides, such as Roundup.
   Lidia Watrud and colleagues from the EPA's National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon, collected seeds from wild grasses growing tens of kilometres around the experimental plots.
   They then grew the seeds in greenhouses and tested the growing grasses for transgenes and resistance to Roundup, which would reveal cross-pollination with the GM bentgrass.

Extensive Contamination
   Watrud's team found extensive gene contamination within 2 km downwind of the experimental plots. But some pollen went much further. Contaminated grass seeds turned up across 310 square km, with the most distant find 21 km from the source.
   Only a handful of studies have ever investigated gene flow from crops - GM or otherwise-at distances greater than a few hundred metres. Studies have found radish and sunflower genes travelling 1 km, marrow (or squash) genes travelling 1.3 km and oil-seed rape (or canola) genes travelling up to 3 km.
    But the suspicion is that pollen from many crops could travel hundreds of kilometres on the winds.
   "To my knowledge, this is the longest distance reported for GM pollen dispersal," says David Quist, whose research into the genetic spread of GM maize in
Mexico caused a row after its publication in Nature in June 2002.
   Creeping bentgrass is a favourite of golf course managers, who say it provides a uniquely smooth surface for putting greens. But weeds can interrupt the smoothness, so course managers want a grass that is resistant to the herbicides that kill the weeds.

Wild-Land Invasion
   GM creeping bentgrass has exactly that characteristic and has been tested in
Oregon by seed company Scotts, of Marysville, Ohio, which collaborated on the EPA study.
   But the findings now threaten to derail a bid from Scotts for government permission to sell the product to golf courses and more widely. Their efforts have been held up by government agencies who fear that the GM putting-green grass could invade the country's wild lands.
   Creeping bentgrass grows naturally in many habitats and cross-pollinates with other grasses of the Agrostis genus. "It is one of the first wind-pollinated transgenic crops being developed for commercial use," says Watrud.
   Gina Ramos of the Bureau of Land Management says: "Our concern is that if it was to escape onto public land, we wouldn't know how to control it."

 

 

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