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Date: Fri, 4 Sep 1998 20:33:18 +0100
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Thanks to firstname.lastname@example.org (jim mcnulty) for forwarding this:
Sept 3, 1998
New Trait Surfaces in Altered Plant Associated Press
Associated Press Writer
Heightening environmentalists' fears about the dangers of genetic
engineering, a weed that was altered by scientists to resist a herbicide
also developed far greater ability to pollinate other plants and pass its
The findings raise the possibility of the emergence of "superweeds"
impervious to weedkillers.
The weed's enhanced ability to pollinate other plants was an unintended
consequence of experiments with Arabidopsis thaliana, a species commonly
used in genetic research.
Joy Bergelson, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of
Chicago, said the findings show that genetic engineering can substantially
increase the chances of "transgene escape," or the spread of certain traits
from one plant to another.
Her study was published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature. ...
Ms. Bergelson compared the fertilization rate of plants that were mutated
to make them resistant to the herbicide chlorsulphuron, and plants that
were genetically altered for the same trait.
The genetically altered plants were able to fertilize other plants at a
rate 20 times greater than that of the mutants.
Why this was so is not clear. Ms. Bergelson speculated that the pollen from
the genetically altered plants might have a longer lifespan than normal
pollen or have some other competitive advantage.
AGRICULTURE-ENVIRONMENT/ NEW STUDY BACKS UP BIOTECH FEARS
September 4, 1998
WASHINGTON - Inter Press Service via NewsEdge Corporation : A just
published scientific study bolsters worldwide fears that biologically
engineered organisms will have an adverse affect on other species and the
The report, released yesterday in the scientific journal Nature, says
species of genetically altered plants examined in field tests showed a
dramatically increased ability to reproduce sexually and spread their
modified genes to non-modified plants.
This new finding strengthens the fears of many small farmers, scientists
and environmentalists worldwide who claimed that the modified or added
genes of biologically engineered organisms might "escape" into other
related crops or weeds through sexual reproduction or cross-pollination.
"This is a big deal," says Jane Rissler, a senior scientist with the Union
of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based advocacy group. "This study
confirms one of the largest fears of what genetically modified plants can
do. The flow of genes from biologically engineered species to wild species
could change the genetic diversity and processes of whole ecosystems."
Chemical and agribusiness corporations have developed a new generation of
transgenic or biologically engineered crops that contain genetic traits
from other plants, viruses, bacteria, and animals. These new plants are
designed to perform in ways that could never have been achieved by
scientists working with classical breeding techniques.
Scientists, for example, have inserted "antifreeze" protein genes from
flounders into the genetic code of tomatoes to protect the fruit from frost
damage. U.S.-based Monsanto has altered soyabeans to withstand the
herbicides the chemical company manufactures. And, chicken genes have been
inserted into potatoes to increase disease resistance.
In the new study published by Nature, Joy Bergelson and other scientists at
the University of Chicago in the state of Illinois say that, normally, the
risk of a gene spreading to other plants is low if the plants
self-fertilize. Yet, after several field tests, Bergelson and colleagues
report that a genetically engineered plant that was modified to be
resistant to the herbicide chlorsulphuron is unusually promiscuous.
Normally this plant, a weed known scientifically as Arabidopsis thaliana,
would self-fertilize and cross-pollinate. But after its genes were
modified, it was 20 times more likely to pollinate with other thaliana
plants that were not genetically modified, or wild.
Therefore, the researchers say, the study shows that wild thaliana are more
likely to be fertilized by the pollen of biologically altered thaliana
rather than self-reproduce.
"Although A. thaliana is unlikely to become a (sexually reproductive
plant), these results show that genetic engineering can substantially
increase the probability of transgene escape, even in a species considered
to be almost completely self- pollinating," says the study.
While the researchers do not know why the plant has become more fertile
after being biologically engineered, they say their findings may have
serious consequences since "this (biologically altered) gene has been
introduced into dozens of agricultural crops."
Researchers, farmers and environmentalists are concerned that transgenic
genes for herbicide tolerance, and pest and disease resistance might escape
and through cross-pollination, insert themselves into weedy relatives or
other crops. This would dramatically alter the balance in ecosystems by
creating weeds or crops that are resistant to herbicides, pests and
viruses, says Rissler.
Scientists, for example, have transferred to Indian rice the gene of a
naturally occurring bacteria, called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, which
acts as a pesticide. Biologists that study bugs worry that this new Bt rice
which is pollinated by wind, might spread to wild grasses that are close
relatives. This would lead to pest resistance of the weeds and increase the
likelihood of creating bugs super resistant to pesticides.
The implications of the Nature study have also caused alarm among those
concerned about a new biologically engineering technique that would enable
seed companies to switch a plant's reproductive processes on and off. This
means that if farmers attempted to replant the harvested seed, it would be
Mississippi-based Delta and Pine Land -- the largest cotton seed
corporation in the United States -- which was recently bought out by the
chemical giant Monsanto, has come under strong criticism for its new
technology by farmer organizations in developing countries. They fear that
since many farmers who rely on keeping seeds from a previous harvest for
the next season will suffer the consequences of this new technology even if
they do not buy the modified seed.
"Pollen from crops carrying the new trait will infect the fields of farmers
who either reject or can't afford the technology," says Neth Dano, director
of the Philippines-based SEARICE, an organization that workers with farmers
in South-east Asia. "When farmers reach into their bins to sow seed the
following season they could discover -- too late -- that some of their seed
This new seed technology is hardly an isolated case say, farmer
organizations. Zeneca BioSciences, a British corporation, just applied for
patents in 58 countries for its new chemical that works together with a
biologically engineered crop to activate or halt genes crucial to normal
Farm organizations in developing countries charge that this new invention
renders it impossible to save protected seed from growing season to growing
season. Findings from the new study published in Nature rekindle indicate
that this genetic trait might spread easily to other crops through sexual
"Farmers could find that their neighbor bought the technology and it
cross-pollinated into their field, leaving them with dead seeds," says
Monica Opole, the Kenya-based coordinator for the Community Biodiversity
Development and Conservation Program.
"Who knows how this technology will interact with nature, especially as it
spreads out over time and inevitably crosses with farmers' varieties."
Thanks to Prof. Joe Cummins e-mail: email@example.com for forwarding
Nature 391, 326; 1998
Call for moratorium on xenotransplants
Sir - The Asilomar moratorium on applications of recombinant DNA research,
agreed to by molecular biologists in 1974, marked a turning point in the
approach of biologists to their responsibilities to the public in
developing a technology with unpredictable consequences.
That the worst-case scenarios envisaged at the time did not materialize in
no way detracts from the merit of the caution taken. Today, we are once
again faced with a similarly perplexing quandary.
Xenotransplantation, the transplantation of animal organs, tissues and
cells, promises substantial benefits in the long term 1,2 yet also creates
a risk that infectious agents from the donor animal might jump the species
barrier to man, not just infecting transplant recipients but also spreading
to the general population . We believe that a decision on whether to
proceed at present with clinical trials of xenotransplantation should not
be left to the traditional technical-based approaches that regulatory
agencies use to evaluate new medical technologies.
Given the potential risk to the public, the issue is first and foremost an
ethical one. Before introducing a regulatory framework driven by technical
considerations, an informed public debate is needed so that the public can
decide whether it wishes to consent to clinical xenotransplantation at all
and, if so, under what conditions. Until such a review is completed in the
United States, we advocate a moratorium on all forms of clinical
xenotransplantation, a recommendation discussed more fully elsewhere 4. At
the same time, fundamental research in xenotransplantation should be
actively supported, given that it promises not only to advance our
understanding of the immune and vascular systems, but also to fill some of
the many gaps in our understanding of the problems, benefits and risks of
potential clinical application of this technology.
Fritz H. Bach Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA
Harvey V. Fineberg Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA
1 Bach, F. H. et al. Nature Med. 3, 944-948 (1997). 2. Isacson, O. &
Breakefield, X. O. Nature Med. 3, 964-969 (1997). 3. Patience, C.,
Takeuchi, Y. & Weiss, R. A. Nature Med. 3, 282-286 (1997). 4. Bach, F. H et
al. Nature Med. 4, 142-145 (1998).
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Nature © Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1998
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--Dan in Sunny Puerto Rico--
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