Thanks for the Super Genes - Weeds Receive Transgenic Material From GMOs

GMOs and wild weeds become friends with benefits...

by Heather Callaghan

A lot of GMO talk surrounds the rapidly growing appearance of superweeds due to herbicide resistance. Did you too suspect that genetically modified plants were also transferring their genetic material to these weeds?

In addition to resistance from repeated use of herbicides, some 'Hulked' out weeds now have an even greater genetic survival advantage by taking on transgenic material from GMOs.

Nature reports:
A genetic-modification technique used widely to make crops herbicide resistant has been shown to confer advantages on a weedy form of rice, even in the absence of the herbicide. [emphasis added]
That would mean the weed form could potentially take its new-found benefits into the wild - and spread them. Of course, this type of glyphosate pesticide (Roundup) resistance spread through cross pollination hasn't been studied much until recently. That's because biotech giants who own patents on the technology aren't willing to let academic researchers poke around.

Some plant geneticists assume that this type of transfer wouldn't hold up in the wild due "extra machinery" and no selective tending. Ecologist Lu Baorong of Fudan University in Shanghai, China found out otherwise. The weed form of common rice, Oryza sativa is strengthened and produces more seeds even without glyphosate application.

First, Monsanto's glyphosate eradicates weeds by blocking enzyme EPSP synthase, choking out plants' ability to absorb nutrition. In order for a whole crop to withstand this heavy chemical use (instead of farmers only spurting the actual weeds and risk killing vegetation) it is genetically modified with bacteria specifically to make the plant produce extra EPSP synthase. This is how the crops survive under so much dousing. (Could this mean the crop still doesn't uptake much nutrition from the soil?)

In a study published in New Phytologist, Lu and team replicated the situation by actually genetically modifying the rice to over produce its EPSP synthase and then cross-pollinated it with the weedy rice. Then, the cross-bred offspring bred with each other. This generation would be all the same except some would have more EPSP synthase producing genes. Guess which ones produced more seeds?

Like Roundup Ready type crops, much of the newly transgenic weedy rice had greater EPSPS protein levels - among other GM traits like glyphosate resistance. More photosynthesis, flowers, surviving shoots and could produce up to 125% more seeds than their non-mutated counterparts. They had genetic advantages even without any use of glyphosate. Weedy rice, or "red rice," usually produces very few grains which is why it is considered a weed and an invasive pest.

If the GM rice goes beyond the trial phase - this would make the pest an even bigger threat than before. It is already a huge, financially devastating problem ... and not only in China. The crops could have some relentless competition - the very pests they were designed to thwart! Cultivated rice and red rice are so close that herbicide would kill them both - thus, development of glyphosate resistant cultivated rice, not yet approved for human consumption. Lu's research should serve as just one reason why.

Additionally, UK plant geneticist Brian Ford-Lloyd says:
If the EPSP-synthase gene gets into the wild rice species, their genetic diversity, which is really important to conserve, could be threatened because the genotype with the transgene would outcompete the normal species. This is one of the most clear examples of extremely plausible damaging effects [of GM crops] on the environment.
Will the real rice please stand up? And withstand? This rare, breakthrough study is a black eye for the already failing and unwanted GM Golden Rice trials with all their questionable "good intentions" arguments -- but it's being forced on people anyway.

Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at and Like at Facebook.

Description: Thanks for the Super Genes - Weeds Receive Transgenic Material From GMOs
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