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UCR earns $1.5 million grant to examine how engineered crop genes stray

The National Science Foundation has awarded UC Riverside a $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 Bio
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    Contact: Kris Lovekin
    kris.lovekin@ucr.edu
    909-827-2495
    University of California - Riverside
    18-Aug-2004


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