Papers in the Biological Sciences


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Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 2004. 35:149–74


Copyright © 2004 by Annual Reviews

doi: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.34.011802.132406


Ecological risks associated with the release of transgenic crops include nontarget effects of the crop and the escape of transgenes into wild populations. Nontarget effects can be of two sorts: (a) unintended negative effects on species that do not reduce yield and (b) greater persistence of the crop in feral populations. Conventional agricultural methods, such as herbicide and pesticide application, have large and well- documented nontarget effects. To the extent that transgenes have more specific target effects, transgenic crops may have fewer nontarget effects. The escape of transgenes into wild populations, via hybridization and introgression, could lead to increased weediness or to the invasion of new habitats by the wild population. In addition, native species with which the wild plant interacts (including herbivores, pathogens, and other plant species in the community) could be negatively affected by “transgenic-wild” plants. Conventional crop alleles have facilitated the evolution of increased weediness in several wild populations. Thus, some transgenes that allow plants to tolerate biotic and abiotic stress (e.g., insect resistance, drought tolerance) could have similar effects.

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