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Bentgrass May Spell Trouble

September 25, 2004|From Reuters

Genetically engineered grass developed for use on golf courses can spread its modified genes for miles, carried by ultra-light pollen particles, U.S. government researchers said Tuesday.

The bentgrass, modified to resist weedkillers, pollinated grasses as far as 13 miles away, the Environmental Protection Agency team reported.

The Department of Agriculture said it would conduct an environmental impact statement investigation into the potential effects of the plant, which would keep it off the market for a time.

The findings, published in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offer the strongest evidence yet that it will be difficult to control genetically modified plants from interbreeding with surrounding plants to create new and unanticipated hybrids.

Lidia S. Watrud and colleagues tracked the creeping bentgrass pollen from experimental crop fields in central Oregon. The grass, created by Scotts Co. of Marysville, Ohio, carried a gene that allowed it to resist the effects of Monsanto Co.'s Roundup weedkiller.

Farmers can spray these crops freely with Roundup, killing the weeds without harming their crops.

But the fear is that the modified crops can spread the bacterial gene to surrounding plants, creating hard-to-kill "superweeds."

Developers of gene-modified crops argue that it would be easy to use other weedkillers to control any newly spread plants.

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