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Genetically modified crops may pass helpful traits to weeds, study finds

TUCSON, Ariz. - For the first time, researchers have shown that a gene artificially inserted into crop plants to fend off pests can migrate to weeds in a natural environment and make the weeds stronger.

Scientists studied genetically engineered sunflowers - those modified with a gene that produces a chemical toxic to certain insects - to see what happened when these foreign genes, called transgenes, were inadvertently passed along to weedy relatives.

"This is the first example of what might happen if a beneficial transgene accidentally spread to a wild population and then proliferated in subsequent generations," said Allison Snow, a study co-author and a professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University.

"Many crops can exchange genes with nearby wild relatives," she said. "But few commercially grown crops in this country are genetically engineered. Of those that are, only canola and squash could cross with weeds."

In the current study, the resulting hybrid sunflowers that contained the transgene had 50 percent more seeds than control hybrids without the gene. These plants also had far less insect damage, suggesting that that the insecticidal gene was working by preventing insects from eating the plant.

"We were surprised that a single transgene could have such a big effect o
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Contact: Allison Snow
Snow.1@osu.edu
614-562-7576
Ohio State University
8-Aug-2002


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