GM genes jump into turnip plot

23 April 1999

GM genes jump into turnip plot

HERBICIDE tolerant oilseed rape genes have jumped from a genetically modified crop trial into wild turnips.

And while the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, which has been monitoring the trial of GM rape near Cambridge, is playing down the incident, environmental campaigners claim it heralds the arrival of Britains first GM superweed.

Jeremy Sweet, NIABs head of chemistry and plant pathology, admitted that wild turnips growing in a field next to a GM herbicide tolerant rape trial had cross pollinated, creating a smaller hybrid rape/turnip plant.

He added that some of the hybrid plants had proved resistant to herbicides when tested.

"Some of these hybrids have remained viable and could still breed. In theory these wild plants, which colonise canal banks and field edges, could act as a reservoir for modified genes that could then cross pollinate with commercial crops in the future.

"We are now trying to develop molecular tests which will give us an indication of the rate at which GM oilseed rape/turnip weeds are created," Dr Sweet said.

He added: "I dont see that the incident causes a great problem. We can always spray the hybrid with a different herbicide that the plant remains susceptible to. And, anyway, levels of cross-pollination appear to have been very small."

But Pete Riley, senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth, demanded government action. "The government must act quickly and join the French government in banning the planting of crops with wild relatives to prevent further cross-breeding now." &#42

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