A better understanding of gene flow

June 23, 2005

Scientists will today explain to a meeting in London how their research has greatly improved our understanding of the flow of genetic material between organisms in the environment. Outcomes from the Gene Flow in Plants and Microorganisms Initiative, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), will be valuable in informing the future of both conventional and GM crops.

The outcomes of the initiative include the finding that separation distances of around 100m between GM and conventional crops can meet most impurity thresholds and restrict the transfer of genetic material into the environment. Researchers also found that gene transfer from GM organisms to soil bacteria is vanishingly small and highly unlikely.

However, scientists examining the likelihood of gene transfer from conventionally-bred commercial oil seed rape to its waterside wild relative, Bargeman's Cabbage, Brassica rapa, found that transfer was not rare. In fact, they estimated that around 32,000 oil seed/B. rapa hybrids are produced in the UK every year.

Another project explored how the activity of genes transferred into plants could be made more predictable. The researchers found that introducing traits by GM methods can have less impact on overall gene expression than conventional plant breeding.

The findings are the result of a five-year £4.5M initiative to increase knowledge of what happens when new or 'foreign' genes are inserted into an organism's genome, what mechanisms control the insertion, whether inserted genetic material can transfer between organisms, and if so what the consequences of gene flow would be.

Professor Phil Dale, Chair of the Initiative Steering Group, said, "The findings of the Gene Flow Initiative are not just important in informing policy on GM crops but for conventional farming and plant breeding as well. Before research under this initiative began we had very little idea of how genetic material flowed in the environment but we are now much better placed for the future."

Scientists involved in the initiative will be explaining the research and its outcomes at a Media Briefing on at 10am BST, June 23 at Copthorne Tara Hotel, Scarsdale Place, Kensington, London, W8 5SR, UK.
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To attend please contact Matt Goode, BBSRC Media Officer, Tel: +44 1793 413299, e-mail: matt.goode@bbsrc.ac.uk

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

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