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Field release of transgenic crop in Switzerland, an ecological risk assessment

Download here: Field release of transgenic crop in Switzerland, an ecological risk assessment ( pdf 429 Kb) K. Ammann, Y. Jacot and P. Rufener Al Mazyad


Technology Assessment in the anglosaxon world is used in a broad sense of the word. It includes the total of ecology, embracing also socio-economic sectors. This is why we want to restrict this study to vertical gene flow, here treated in most aspects, but leaving out socio-economic considerations. As always in ecology, there are a lot of connections to other factors to be considered, including some basics on crop characteristics regarding domestication and hybridization. This is why two chapters on these topics have been added.

The basic philosophy of this study is to make an attempt to de-focus discussion on genetic engineering. We consider it highly important to discuss potential risks on genetic engineering always in the context of classical breeding methods. This might also lead to a healthy reconsideration of some beliefs in classical breeding. But it will also have the effect of broadening the mind during the process of the assessment of potential risks in genetic engineering. Some of these risks have been there for decades and even centuries in classical breeding. In some cases these potential risks turned out to be less harmful to ecosystems than others. We should not forget that in the view of ecology one of the biggest risks with clearcut negative effects is the strong trend to monocultures, especially the one starting in the last three decades. Again, if we de-focus discussion, we have to realize that genetic engineering has the same potential risk of enhancing monocultures, but at the same time also a good potential to turn around this unhealthy trend.

By comparing potential and actual risks in both fields we need a clear view of the similarities and differences. Raamsdonk 1993 has given a scheme of gene flow, whether natural or influenced by human activity. It clearly shows that most pathways of gene flow are both natural and also strongly influenced by agriculture and breeding. But there is one notable exeption: Transformation is something quite new. It is now possible to jump over the limits of species, genera and even families and orders in a much easier way. Let's not forget that there is something universal about the sequences used for transformation and often lay persons are puzzled by expressions like "a fish gene" for instance. They have not the knowledge how to judge the novelty of such transformation. But this statement also counts for the experts: Position effects and pleiotropic effects after transformation have to be considered in all cases, this is why we need to think about new risk assessment methods for genetic engineering. But we should always be aware of the fact that classical breeding is also dealing with the introduction of genes to a crop plant. The big difference is that these genes introduced in classical breeding are always belonging to some relatively close parents, transformation is always done in the relatively narrow environment of interbreeding species groups. But again we have to consider all cases in classical breeding, where single gene mutations or the change of only a small number of genes has dramatically changed morphology, growth and yield of a crop. Considering the possible escape of transgenes to wild relatives there are parallels between classical breeding and genetic engineering regarding the processes of vertical gene flow, but the results are different: In the case of a possible escape of a novel transgene: We have to consider a new situation for the wild relatives receiving the transgene.

© Copyright Agency BATS: Contact Legal Advisor: Advokatur Prudentia-Law Date of publishing: 1996-10-15

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