Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Gene transfer from transgenic crops: A more realistic picture

Published: Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Last Updated: Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Bookmark and Share
A comprehensive, data-driven statistical model including the surrounding landscape, pollinating insects and human seed dispersal allows for more accurate prediction of gene flow between crop plants

A comprehensive, data-driven statistical model including the surrounding landscape, pollinating insects and human seed dispersal allows for more accurate prediction of gene flow between crop plants A new data-driven statistical model that incorporates the surrounding landscape in unprecedented detail describes the transfer of an inserted bacterial gene via pollen and seed dispersal in cotton plants more accurately than previously available methods. Shannon Heuberger, a graduate student at the University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and her co-workers will publish their findings in PLoS ONE on Nov. 30. The transfer of genes from genetically modified crop plants is a hotly debated issue. Many consumers are concerned about the possibility of genetic material from transgenic plants mixing with non-transgenic plants on nearby fields. Producers, on the other side, have a strong interest in knowing whether the varieties they are growing are free from unwanted genetic traits. Up until now, realistic models were lacking that could help growers and legislators assess and predict gene flow between genetically modified and non-genetically modified crops with satisfactory detail. This study is the first to analyze gene flow of a genetically modified trait at such a comprehensive level. The new approach is likely to improve assessment of the transfer of genes between plants other than cotton as well. "The most important finding was that gene flow in an agricultural landscape is complex and influenced by many factors that previous field studies have not measured," said Heuberger. "Our goal was to put a tool in the hands of growers, managers and legislators that allows them to realistically assess the factors that affect gene flow rates and then be able to extrapolate from that and decide how they can manage gene flow." The researchers measured many factors in the field and developed a geographic information system-based analysis that takes into account the whole landscape surrounding a field to evaluate how it influences the transfer of genes between fields. Genes can be transferred in several ways, for example by pollinators such as bees, or through accidental seed mixing during farming operations. Surprisingly, the team found that pollinating insects, widely believed to be the key factor in moving transgenic pollen into neighboring crop fields, had a small impact on gene flow compared to human farming activity, with less than one percent of seeds collected around the edges of non-Bt cotton fields resulting from bee pollination between Bt and non-Bt cotton. Most previous studies focused on the distance between the non-transgenic crop field and the nearest source of transgenic plants. "Although this approach is simple, it is potentially less useful for understanding gene flow in commercial agriculture where there can be many sources of transgenic plants," Heuberger said. Heuberger and her co-workers broadened the scope to include flower-pollinating bees, humans moving seeds around and the area of all cotton fields in a three-kilometer (1.9 mile) radius. This approach turned out to be more powerful in understanding the effect of surrounding fields than using the customary model based solely on distance. For the study, the scientists chose 15 fields across the state of Arizona planted with cotton that did not have the transgenic protein encoded by a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. They assessed the number of pollinators visiting cotton flowers through field observations and determined the transfer of genes by collecting samples of cotton bolls and determining their genetic identity. "We saw a need for a spatially explicit model that would account for the whole surrounding landscape," Heuberger said. "Our model takes into account the distance and area of all relevant neighboring fields, the effect of pollinators like bees and human factors that can result in the mixing of seed types." Heuberger's findings have implications not just for genetically engineered traits but also more generally for seed production. "When you grow a crop and want the variety to be pure, just being able to know how far gene flow will occur and how it is affected by pollinators and human farming activity in the area is very valuable." ### The research was funded by Western Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education and an Environmental Protection Agency STAR Fellowship. REFERENCE: The study, "Pollen- and Seed-Mediated Transgene Flow in Commercial Cotton Seed Production Fields" will be published in PLoS ONE on Tuesday, November 30th with the press embargo ending at 2 p.m. Pacific Time (5 p.m. Eastern) on Tuesday, November 30th. On publication, the paper will be available online at

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,600+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 3,800+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

New Device Reduces Time to Diagnose Infections
A new diagnostic device created by a collaborative team of UA engineers and scientists may significantly reduce the amount of time necessary to diagnose tissue infections.
Wednesday, September 09, 2015
Researchers Reveal Elusive Molecule
A long-standing chemistry puzzle has been solved, with potential implications ranging from industrial processes to atmospheric chemistry.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Researchers Link Liver Disease and Drug Metabolism
Researchers have discovered that nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, an increasingly common but often undiagnosed liver disease, could have significant medical implications for people with type 2 diabetes.
Monday, July 13, 2015
Scientists Develop An intensity-incorporated Protein Identification Algorithm for Tandem Mass Spectrometry
Scientists from the University of Arizona, have identified a protein identification algorithm, called SeQuence IDentfication (SQID), which makes use of the coarse intensity from a statistical analysis.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Combining Bt Cotton, Sterile Insects Prevents Destruction of Cotton Plants
University of Arizona researchers have found that combining pest-resistant cotton and large numbers of sterile moths will prevent these destructive insects from damaging cotton plants in Arizona.
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Genes may Hold Keys to How Humans Learn
New research has implications not only for those with Parkinson's, but developing teaching strategies for students as well, researchers say.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Scientific News
13 Ways to Stop an Unseen Force from Disrupting Weighing
Download a free Mettler Toledo paper to discover how to halt static’s negative effects before the next weigh-in.
Flinders Ig Nobel Winner Cracks Global Anaesthetic
One of the world’s most in-demand anaesthetics can now be produced on the spot, thanks to the thermos-flask sized device that recently won Flinders University inventor Professor Colin Raston an Ig Nobel prize.
Resurrected Proteins Double Their Natural Activity
Researchers demonstrate method for reviving denatured proteins.
Genes That Protect African Children From Developing Malaria Identified
Variations in DNA at a specific location on the genome that protect African children from developing severe malaria, in some cases nearly halving a child’s chance of developing the life-threatening disease, have been identified in the largest genetic association study of malaria to date.
Messing With The Monsoon
Manmade aerosols can alter rainfall in the world’s most populous region.
Potential Target for Treatment of Autism
Grant of $2.4 million will support further research.
Scientists Decode Structure at Root of Muscular Disease
Researchers at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine have unlocked the structural details of a protein seen as key to treating a neuromuscular disease.
Sniffing Out Cancer
Scientists have been exploring new ways to “smell” signs of cancer by analyzing what’s in patients’ breath.
New Test Detects All Viruses
A new test detects virtually any virus that infects people and animals, according to research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where the technology was developed.
Inroads Against Leukemia
Potential for halting disease in molecule isolated from sea sponges.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,600+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,800+ scientific videos