Genetically modified crops are commonplace in fields across the United States, but a new study suggests that some plants have spread into the wild. A survey of North Dakota has turned up hundreds of genetically modified canola plants growing along roads across the state.
The results, presented Friday at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Pittsburgh, show that the vast majority of feral canola plants in the state contain artificial genes that make them resistant to herbicides. Researchers also found two plants that contained traits from multiple genetically modified varieties, suggesting that genetically modified plants are breeding in the wild.
“What we’ve demonstrated in this study is a large-scale escape of a genetically modified crop in the United States,” says Cindy Sagers, an ecologist at the University of Arkansas, who led the study.
Canola modified to resist either the herbicide glufosinate (brand name Liberty) or glyphosate (brand name Roundup) has been available in the U.S. since 1989—and unregulated since 1998 and 1999, respectively for the two herbicides. “These results are not new for Canadian researchers and to be expected if two types of transgenic herbicide-resistant canola are commercially grown,” says Suzanne Warwick of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, a government agency.
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