GM Grass Genes Travel Much Further Than Expected
Gene Watch v.18, n.1, Jan/Feb 2005 1feb2005
In a study published on Oct 5, 2004, scientists at the US Environmental Protection Agency showed that genetically modified creeping bentgrasses sold by Monsanto and Scotts could spread their pollen much further than expected. Engineered to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, Roundup-Ready bentgrass is marketed to golf courses so that groundskeepers can selectively kill weeds without damaging fairways and greens.
While Monsanto and Scotts claimed that the GM grass would only spread pollen in a mile radius, EPA scientists found that it had crosspollinated other resident species of grasses as far as 13 miles from the test farm. While statistically low in occurrence, these cross-pollinations produced seedlings that carried the herbicide-resistance gene of the Roundup-Ready bentgrass. These scientists had set out to look at new models for gene movement, and the bentgrass proved to be a useful species to observe. Previous studies had shown cross-pollination at much shorter distances; in 2002 a study showed genetically modified canola cross-pollinates at a maxi-mum distance of 3 miles.
The Monsanto and Scotts companies willingly shared their leaf and tissue samples with the researchers. However, the data from this study provides support for critics of widespread use of genetically modified grass, as this grass has the ability to confer herbicide resistance at great distances. Concerns raised by the ease of cross-pollination include the possible development of herbicide resistant weeds and competition with natural species of grass.