The debate over genetic modification (GM) has gathered extra fuel with the finding that herbicide resistance genes from a canola plant have passed into wild relatives of the plant growing in the same field as a GM crop trial. During the trial, scientists from the British Centre for Ecology and Hydrology found that the genes from the canola (oilseed rape) plant had passed into their wild relative, turnip rape.
They discovered this by germinating thousands of seeds from wild plants growing near the trial crops. A further discovery of the herbicide resistance genes in a wild plant was found in charlock, a related plant of a different genus. SciDev.Net reports that scientists have downplayed the creation of this “superweed”, while anti-GM groups like Friends of the Earth believe it is cause for major concern.
The crop trials were carried out on four genetically modified crops – two varieties of canola that are planted at different times of the year, sugar beets and maize. All the plants had been provided with a gene that would allow them to be resistant to a single herbicide that was sprayed over the fields to kill weeds. After the trials, only the cultivation of the GM maize was approved on the grounds that it was more wildlife-friendly than the cultivation of conventional maize.