UCR geneticist spells out consequences of genetically engineered genes escaping into wild species

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- (www.ucr.edu) -- Domesticated plants are the descendants of wild plants and the two are therefore closely related. What would be the consequences of sex between cultivated plants and their wild relatives? Would they perhaps make strange bedfellows?

Norman C. Ellstrand, professor of genetics at UC Riverside and director of the Biotechnology Impacts Center, poses this question and provides some answers in his first book entitled "Dangerous Liaisons? When Cultivated Plants Mate With Their Wild Relatives" (288 pages, Johns Hopkins University Press, October 2003, edited by Samuel M. Scheiner).

The title captures, in a few words, the idea that possible problems could result from spontaneous hybridization between cultivated plants and their wild relatives. "This is an issue of much interest to plant evolutionary geneticists, crop evolutionists, weed evolutionists," said Ellstrand. "It would appeal also to those interested in understanding the 'gene flow' controversy associated with the field release of genetically engineered (transgenic) plants, to managers of endangered plant species, regulators of plant biotechnology, decision-makers, academics, students, and others concerned about the environment."

The book introduces the reader to what is involved in the natural hybridization process. Ellstrand then describes what impact the hybridization between crops and their wild relatives has already had (e.g., evolution of weediness/invasiveness in the hybrids, the increased risk of extinction by hybridization if the wild plants are rare). The book ends with Ellstrand casting an eye on the future when he considers how we may better manage and monitor the escape of engineered

Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
University of California - Riverside

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