Monday, January 13, 2003

GM News
A paper in the new Environmental Biosafety Research downplays the risk of "superweeds":
The movement of transgenes from crops to weeds and the resulting consequences are concerns of modern agriculture. The possible generation of "superweeds" from the escape of fitness-enhancing transgenes into wild populations is a risk that is often discussed, but rarely studied. Oilseed rape, Brassica napus (L.), is a crop with sexually compatible weedy relatives, such as birdseed rape (Brassica rapa (L.)). Hybridization of this crop with weedy relatives is an extant risk and an excellent interspecific gene flow model system. In laboratory crosses, T 3 lines of seven independent transformation events of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) oilseed rape were hybridized with two weedy accessions of B. rapa. Transgenic hybrids were generated from six of these oilseed rape lines, and the hybrids exhibited an intermediate morphology between the parental species. The Bt transgene was present in the hybrids, and the protein was synthesized at similar levels to the corresponding independent oilseed rape lines. Insect bioassays were performed and confirmed that the hybrid material was insecticidal. The hybrids were backcrossed with the weedy parent, and only half the oilseed rape lines were able to produce transgenic backcrosses. After two backcrosses, the ploidy level and morphology of the resultant plants were indistinguishable from B. rapa. Hybridization was monitored under field conditions (Tifton, GA, USA) with four independent lines of Bt oilseed rape with a crop to wild relative ratio of 1200:1. When B. rapa was used as the female parent, hybridization frequency varied among oilseed rape lines and ranged from 16.9% to 0.7%.
Monsanto's Bollgard II Cotton is approved -- it has 2 Bt genes.

The Post reports that the US is edging closer to a GM food WTO suit against Europe:

Yet there is concern in some quarters that a suit could stir up European public opinion against the United States -- and possibly even set off a wider trade war, prompting the European Union to impose sanctions in unrelated trade battles. And it is far from clear that even a successful legal case would open European markets to foods made with gene-altered crops, because resistance among European consumers is perceived to be overwhelming....

"I don't see things getting improved," [US Trade Representative and rocket scientist Robert] Zoellick said. "Instead I see something extremely disturbing: the European anti-scientific view spreading to other parts of the world -- not letting Africans eat food you and I eat, and instead letting people starve." He called this "immoral" and described the European view of biotechnology as "Luddite," a reference to the English workers who smashed machines to save their jobs at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

The BBC has a 2-part radio "programme" on GM food that you can listen to online.

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