Plants have been exchanging genes with closely related species for millennia. It is one of the strategies that they have evolved to cope with environmental change.

Now that plant breeders are taking genes from other species and putting them into commercial plants to provide them with increased resistance to disease and insects, increase nutritional value and for other meritorious purposes, plant promiscuity presents a potential problem: What will the environmental consequences be when these genes move from the fields into wild populations.

Some feel that these “transgenes” could upset the environmental balance by increasing the hardiness of weeds and other wild plants. Others contend that such risks are very small. Now a study performed by plant scientists at Vanderbilt and Indiana University find that putting one particular transgene in sunflowers is unlikely to have a major environmental impact, reinforcing the argument that such genetic modifications should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

By David F. Salisbury
May 20, 2003

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