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Super Weeds Now Resistant to More Than One Pesticide

What happens when genetically modified plants escape fields and start mixing with non-genetically modified, native plants? It seems you get a situation where one plant potentially shares its genetic material with another.

New Scientist is reporting that canola weeds have been found in North Dakota containing genetic material that is resistant to both glyphosate, sold as Roundup by Monsanto, and glufosinate, sold by Bayer Cropscience as LibertyLink.

How would one plant be resistant to two competing herbicides? According to the article, several scenarios could explain how this happened. Says Meredith Schafer, of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, one scenario is that “it could have happened if one farmer planted glyphosate-resistant canola, and his neighbour planted glufosinate-resistant canola, for example.” Canola plants escaped as weeds from one field could have been fertilized by pollen from the other, leading to a doubly resistant weed.

While Schafer cautions against overreaction, this discovery does have potentially huge implications. For starters, this is first evidence of a genetically-modified crop outside the U.S. crop system. It’s why organic farmers, environmentalists, and some scientists opposed genetic modification of alfalfa, the first perennial crop approved for modification that is easily spread through pollen-drift.

Second, super weeds have already created a number of problems for farmers. The development of weeds resistant to multiple herbicides will leave farmers with even fewer chemical options (which may not be a bad thing).

Finally, the article reports that there is a risk genetically-modified traits will be spread to native plants. In 2002, separate controlled studies showed that sunflowers and sugar beets could swap genes with genetically-modified relatives.

What does this mean for the future of our native ecosystem?

Read the full article here: http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2011/08/transgenenic-weed-doubles-its.html

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