When Snow and Lu set out to study this new genetic engineering method, they didn't know what to expect.
"Our colleagues developed this novel transgenic trait in rice and we didn't know if it would have a fitness benefit, or a cost, or be neutral," Snow said. "With most types of herbicide resistant genes, there's no benefit to a wild plant unless the herbicide is sprayed. A lot of transgenes in crop plants are either selectively neutral in wild plants or, if they have a benefit, it depends on environmental factors like insects, diseases or herbicides being present."
Snow has a history in this area of research. She has found that genes from crop plants can persist in related weeds over many generations. In 2002, she led a study that was the first to show that a gene artificially inserted into crop plants to fend off pests could migrate to weeds in a natural environment and make the weeds stronger. She also has served on national panels that monitor and make recommendations about the release of genetically engineered species into the environment.
She is interested in identifying new possible outcomes of the growth of crop-weed hybrids that contain genetic modifications, but she doesn't take sides about possible risks and benefits of genetically modified crops.
"It's not always the end of the world if a weed starts to become a lot more common after acquiring a new trait there may be effective ways to manage that weed," Snow said. "You just can't make sweeping generalizations about genetic engineering, and knowledge from ecological studies like ours can help inform risk assessment and biosafety oversight."
|Contact: Allison Snow|
Ohio State University